Puddles the Popsicle (and Some Family News)

Note: Here’s a personal journal entry from November 1999, with a bit of family news at the end.

How could I explain the sacrificial death of Jesus to a child? Rather than slogging through the theories of well-meaning theologians, here’s a simple story I told my seven-year-old daughter Bethany a few weeks ago. Nearly every night when I tuck her in, she asks me to either cuddle with her or tell her a bedtime story. I always give her the option of reading a story or making one up. On this particular night, she asked me to make one up. I wasn’t really prepared for that, so I sent up a quick S.O.S. to the Lord in prayer and asked him to help me communicate something that would draw Bethany closer to him. Here’s the gist of what came out.


Once upon a time in a place called Candy Land, there lived a family of four M&Ms. There was a red one, a blue one, a green one, and a yellow one. Two of them were the kind with a little nut inside. The other two were plain, but still delicious. Their names were Slippy, Drippy, Tippy, and Pippy. The Candy Maker who made them, loved them, and wanted to protect them, so he told them to stay out of the sun. “You will melt if you stay out in the sun,” he said.  “In fact, you will die.”

But sure enough, the four M&Ms didn’t obey the Candy Maker. “We want adventure,” they said. “It’s a beautiful day outside, and we want to experience the sun in all of its warmth and beauty.” At first, nothing happened. They just got a little softer inside, but the hard candy shell kept everything hidden. “We’re o.k.,” they said. “Nothing’s going to happen. Besides, this is kinda fun!” 

But over time, the M&Ms started feeling sick. Eventually, they totally melted on the inside, and they were about ready to die. They were scared and started calling out to the Candy Maker for help. “Please, Mr. Candy Maker, please, we need your help!”

And even though the Candy Maker was saddened by their behavior—and a bit angry that the M&Ms had disobeyed him—he loved them so much, he decided to help. With a firm commitment to the safety of his M&Ms, he sent his favorite treat from the candy shop to go rescue them, Puddles the Popsicle. 

Puddles was a frozen, squeezy kind of Popsicle, the kind that comes in a plastic tube. Puddles loved the M&Ms just as much as the Candy Maker. In fact, Puddles was just like the Candy Maker in every way. They seemed to think alike about everything.

So Puddles the Popsicle came to where the M&Ms were lying in the heat, melting and suffering—about ready to die. And Puddles, in love, lay down beside the M&Ms, wrapping his frozen body around them to shield them from the sun. It sure was a hot day, but Puddles was able to transfer all his chill from himself to the M&Ms so that they could become firm and hard and safe again, just like before.  

Sadly, however, in the process of saving the M&Ms from melting, Puddles himself started to melt. In fact, he completely thawed out and became nothing but a lifeless tube of popsicle juice. There, beneath the blazing rays of the mean old sun, the benevolent Puddles died for his friends.

This made the M&Ms very sad. Certainly, they were glad to be alive themselves, but they were now terribly sorry for not listening to the Candy Maker in the first place. But the Candy Maker was so pleased at the beautiful thing Puddles the Popsicle did for his M&M friends, that he blew some fluffy white clouds in front of the sun. And then he caused the temperature in Candy Land to drop quickly, all the way down to below freezing.

When that happened, Puddles the Popsicle became frozen again. He came back to life! And everybody was overjoyed. In fact, they were all so happy that they decided to get together once a week and celebrate what Puddles had done for them. Twice a year they especially celebrated, remembering with food, fun, and music the day Puddles came, and the day he came back to life again. 

In time, Puddles went back to the candy shop to be with the Candy Maker. (They were so much alike, you just couldn’t keep them apart.) But he promised to come back again one day. In fact, he was such a wonderful Popsicle, it was like he had never left in the first place. And everybody in Candy Land lived happily ever after.

Not the labors of my hands / Can fulfill Thy laws’ demands
Could my zeal no respite know / Could my tears forever flow
All for sin could not atone / Thou must save and Thou alone.

Bethany got the point of this little story. I know she got the point because I asked her to draw a picture of what it meant. And she drew for me the four M&Ms and Puddles the Popsicle, and the blazing sun. And there in the middle of the page she drew a diagonal line, on the other side of which was a portrait of Jesus. My seven-year-old got the point. Do you?


I suppose I need to start brushing up on my storytelling abilities for children. In about six and a half months, Lord willing, Bethany is going to deliver her first M&M. I’m eager to meet the child. I’m even more eager for the child to meet Puddles the Popsicle.

“I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him [or her] to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28a).

Not Quite Home on the Range Yet

Last night I sinned. Multiple times. My son and son-in-law were with me at the time. They sinned, too, and we all had a great time doing it. Let me explain. We were celebrating my son-in-law’s birthday, so we went to a shooting range before dinner, cake, and gift giving. It’s something Micah enjoys, though he doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to do it, so we surprised him with a round at Enck’s Gun Barn. My son Drew also has more experience than I do in this area, making me the rookie of the bunch. 

I’ve shot pistols before, but only a few times in the distant past and only at Coke cans set up in the woods near my brother-in-law’s house in North Carolina. Last night we used a rifle—a Ruger AR-556, which is considerably louder than a pistol, though the kickback isn’t bad at all. Given my lack of experience, I was hoping to just get my shots on the paper target!

I didn’t get a bullseye this time, but all my shots were inside the 8 and 9 rings, and one even nicked the center circle. Not bad for a beginner. But all three of us kept missing the mark, which is one of the biblical metaphors for sin. There are many other images, too, but this one is prominent.

Judges 20:15-16 says, “At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred chosen men from those living in Gibeah. Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred chosen men who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss [ḥǎṭṭāʾṯ].”

The word ḥǎṭṭāʾṯ is a general word for sin, usually having the sense of missing the mark, going astray, offending, or ignoring something required by God’s law (e.g., Gen 40:1; Jdgs 20:16; Neh 13:26; etc.). It can also mean “sin offering” (e.g., Exod 29:4).

King David prays in Psalm 51:2, “Cleanse me [ṭāhēr] from my sin [ḥǎṭṭāʾṯ].” The word ṭāhēr means to “be clean,” “cleanse,” “purify,” or “pronounce clean,” as from a defiling condition. It can have a ritual context (e.g., Lev 11:32), or it can refer to the actual cleansing of impurities (e.g., Naaman’s leprosy in 2 Kgs 5:10). 

It can also refer to the removal of impurities from metal (e.g., refined gold and silver in Mal 3:3). Therefore, the word does not necessarily have a sacramental connotation (contra Goldingay, etc.) or even a ceremonial connotation (contra Wilson, the ESV Study Bible, etc.). Indeed, David’s hope of forgiveness rests on nothing ceremonial (cf. vv. 16-17). The sense of his prayer in v. 2 is, “Purify me from my defiling sin.”

Because of his mercy, grace, and compassion (Ps 51:1), God can certainly do that. And because David came to him humbly, he did. “The Lord has taken away your sin,” said Nathan the prophet. You are not going to die” (2 Sam 12:13-14). David later wrote, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven” (Ps 32:1).

Interestingly enough, all three of us last night were landing our initial shots low and to the right of the bullseye. That would seem to suggest a sighting issue on the gun. Our Range Safety Officer (RSO) helped us make the necessary adjustments to shoot more accurately. He also helped me with my stance and positioning vis-à-vis the target. He was patient, kind, and supportive, not condescending at all toward this novice.

Probably my biggest challenge as a shooter is the fact that I’m left-eye dominant trying to shoot from a right hander’s position. My impulse, then, is to use my left eye to align the sights, but that doesn’t work when you’re pressing your right cheek to the gun stock. Here again, the RSO was perceptive and gave me some suggestions to help me “not sin.”

Our night at the range caused me to think about the fact that we’re in this spiritual journey together. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), which is why judging and condescension are out of place in the Christian life. Smug self-righteousness is just a way to justify our anger at other people because they sin differently than we do.

Our natural misalignments and daily temptations to “miss the mark” don’t go away when others scold us, humiliate us, or impose their asceticisms on us (Col 2:21-23). They tend to dissipate when those with a little more experience help us learn how to aim higher. 

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other

Walk the mile and bear the load

The RSO actually showed me last night how to be a better pastor. Lord knows, I need ongoing training.

Image Credits: pexels.com; nationalinterest.org; aurrpc.com.

A Couple of Gift Pics

I mentioned yesterday that I got way too many gifts for Christmas—all of them special and much appreciated—with two from my kids that truly captured my heart. Here are snaps of those two gifts.

The wooden Phillies mug on the right is made in the shape of—and out of the same material as—an MLB bat. It’s so tall I needed a chopstick to stir the creamer! Drew has a way of getting us the most unique gifts—the kinds of things we would never buy for ourselves but bring a smile to our hearts when he gives them.

My daughter and son-in-law choked me up with a canvas made on their cricut that says, “Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices, Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born,” a line from my mom’s favorite Christmas carol, “O Holy Night,” the same one we were singing to her when she passed away. Next year, Lord willing, I’ll write more about that carol and its history. It was an awful lot of work for Bethany and Micah to put this together.

It was a memorable day. (We even had a bit of snow for a few hours!) The greatest gift of course, was the child in the manger. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Andrew also made each of our likenesses into a 3D-printed comic figure. (I am Batman, haha!) We’re still waiting for the USPS to deliver them, but we have printouts of what they will look like. How in the world did I get such creative kids?

Image Credit: wallpaperfx.com.

Cats Rule

My daughter got home from work today and couldn’t find her new cat. Just before breaking into full panic mode, she noticed something odd about her Christmas tree. One of its branches was moving.

Mystery solved. Mrs. Mosby went exploring. Happily, she didn’t pull over the whole tree. Nor did she get electrocuted. Can’t you just hear her saying, “How nice of those humans to put this big toy right in the middle of the living room for me”?

Apparently, cats do rule.

Image Credit: smithsonianmag.com.

Name Them One By One

It may be a bouncy, outdated, sing-songy little piece, but it contains a lot of wisdom: “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.” Today was a good day for doing exactly that. 

>>> Got to have a meaningful time of worship this morning for “Christ the King Sunday.” We sang some of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving and throne songs, which always chokes me up.

>>> Got to see our first attempt at livestreaming the worship service work well this morning. Livestreaming will supplement our existing radio ministry and enable folks to see us as well as hear us.

>>> Got to see my niece from out-of-state this afternoon—the one from whom I may have purchased about $65 of Girl Scout candy to help get their start-up troop launched. (The “Milk Chocolate Mint Trefoils” are phenomenal.)

>>> Got to watch my daughter and her husband co-lead worship at their special Thanksgiving service earlier tonight. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). They even sang “The Blessing,” which I gushed about in a previous post.

>>> Got two packages in the mail today from Amazon. That’s always a good day, even when they’re not books for me. 🙂 Early online Christmas shopping is a must this year because of the virus. Prime makes it fast, which is also good because of the shipping crunch that’s coming.

>>> Got to spend some time tonight thinking about family, friends, and loved ones—new and old alike—remembering the best in each, and how God has loved and taught me so much through them.

And all those years you guided me
So I could find my way.

And with God, being who he is, the best is always yet to come.

Time now to go top off a wonderful day with two episodes of The Crown, a beverage, and a few more pieces of that Girl Scout candy.

Image Credits: kendrickhome.net; vistapointe.net.

Does This Make Me a Grandpa?

My daughter and her husband just adopted a kitten. It’s their first pet ever, and she’s adorable. Her name is Mrs. Mosby. I call her “Mo” for short. Am I supposed to spoil her? (The cat, I mean, not my daughter. That’s been going on forever.) Mo has been to my house once, but she hid from us the whole time. Not sure what to make of that. Better luck on round two, I suppose. Here she is in her own place:

Welcome to the family, little Mo!

Image Credit: pxfuel.com.

Family Update: Just a Handful of Nice, Nutty People on the Journey of Life

The Five

Tim, Sonya, Andrew, Bethany, and Micah. That’s our immediate family for now, and we’re exceedingly glad that God has decided to put us together for this life. We’ve had plenty of good times over the years, and a few challenges, too. But through it all, we’ve loved each other without limit and have encouraged each other always to make Christ our highest treasure. We’re not batting a thousand on that, but we’re still in the game.

We like to think of ourselves as just a handful of “nice, nutty people on the journey of life,” though lots of people probably think we’re more nutty than nice. We’re not inclined to argue the point. We just soldier on, trying to answer the call that God has placed on each of our lives as best we can. Our extended family is likewise precious to us, though they’re far too numerous to mention here.

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Tim Valentino

I was born in Philadelphia, PA and adopted 13 months later by Carl and Cherie Valentino, of Reading, PA. Dad was a blue-collar worker for the Reading Eagle newspaper, and mom went to work for the same company after all three of us kids started junior high. Our parents provided us with something of a middle-class upbringing, and our youth was filled with myriad sports, school activities, and trips to the emergency room.

In earlier days, my brother called me, “Harry Homework.” The nickname was well deserved, though I didn’t like it very much. (I wanted to be cool, not geeky.) Our challenges were many, but we pressed on together when life was tough. Today I’m a grace-loving husband, father, pastor, seminary professor, conference speaker, swimmer, and incurable Philadelphia Phillies fan. I have an odd sense of humor. You can read more about me on the About Page.

Sonya Valentino

I was born in Marietta, OH and spent much of my young life in that state, where mom and dad served as church planters with the Southern Baptist Convention. My siblings and I moved around a lot, helping our parents start new churches in new towns. On several occasions we served as the nucleus of a new children’s ministry or youth group, learning to do Christian ministry firsthand from mom and dad. Eventually we wound up in West Virginia, where I went to college on a music scholarship.

My school days were filled with lots of joy, laughter, music, church activities, and homework. Mom and dad taught me to love God and put him first in my life, which was easy to do since they didn’t just preach the Christian faith, they lived it in front of us. Today I’m a faith-filled wife, mother, ministry leader, and development assistant in Christian higher education. I also provide daily care for my mother, who has mid-stage dementia. Unlike Tim, I have a normal sense of humor. You can read more about me on the About Page.

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We have two adult children, Andrew and Bethany, and a son-in-law, Micah, whom we claim as our own.

Andrew Valentino

Our son Andrew holds a film and media arts degree from Temple University and currently works as an Emmy-nominated videographer for WFMZ-Channel 69 in Allentown, PA. He also does photography and videography on the side. His interests include film, anime, screenwriting, voiceover, science fiction, apologetics, philosophy, and music. For better or worse, he looks like Tim and acts like Sonya.

Bethany White

Our daughter Bethany holds a speech language pathology degree from Bloomsburg University and currently works as a psychiatric assistant at Pennsylvania Counseling Services in Lebanon, PA. Her interests include worship, dance, discipleship, and sharing her faith. She also helps lead worship at her church. For better or worse, she looks like Sonya and acts like Tim.

Micah White

Bethany’s husband, Micah, holds a psychology degree from Kutztown University, and a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy degree from Evangelical Seminary. He currently works as a therapist at Salisbury Behavioral Health in Wyomissing, PA. His interests include music, worship, guitar, computers, woodworking, and car repair (thankfully). For better or worse, he doesn’t look or act like Tim or Sonya at all. Yeah, that’s probably for the better.