One Less Hole in My Head

Tooth #5, which has been M.I.A. since I cracked it last spring in Oxford, has finally been replaced. The journey has taken a lot longer than normal because of the virus. Despite all the delays, my dentist has done a great job with the repair work. He’s been a real pro, and I appreciate his many efforts on my behalf.

Things feel a little snug inside my mouth right now, like when I first got my retainer back in fifth grade, but I’m told that that’s normal and won’t last long. I even have a hint of a lisp right now, which I’m assured will go away in a few days, too. Supposedly it’s a short adjustment period for a procedure like this.

One thing I didn’t know about dental implants is that the “filler” used to impact the stem is made from cadaver bone. One technician told me it can come from people all over the world, and that I might have someone from Australia or Finland or Spain inside my mouth right now. I asked her if that could change my accent. 

Actually, this procedure has led to dozens of jokes along the way, and we’ve all gotten a few laughs out of them.

Implants involve threaded screws, so there’s the whole “screws loose” line.

The crown is made of zirconia, so there’s the whole “fake diamond in my head” routine.

Lately I’ve been singing “All I Want for Christmas” along with Alvin and the Chipmunks, which refers to missing teeth.

And then, of course, there’s the “I got implants” riff. (That was even funnier back when I had tubes put in my ears. Those are made of silicone.) 

But my favorite was the hole-in-the-head bit. I’m glad that today I finally have one less in my own.

Image Credit: omegadentists.com; centurydental.ca.

Alvin! Alvin! Alvin!

We put up the remaining Christmas trees tonight, cheered on by the holiday music of Alvin and the Chipmunks, another family tradition from my childhood. The group comprises three anthropomorphic rodents named Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, courtesy of David Seville. It’s all very silly but part of my past, so it brought some smiles.

Two trees are now completely decorated—the green one in my mother-in-law’s addition (a.k.a., the Granny Flat) and the aluminum tree in our bedroom, described in a previous post. The two remaining trees—one in the living room and one in the family room—will be completed later this week, along with the rest of the inside and outside decorations.

Undecorated Christmas tree in the living room, with room on the mantle and bookshelves for seasonal decorations. It was nice of the chairs to share their space.
Undecorated Christmas tree in the family room. It was nice of these chairs to share their space, too. (Sorry about the glare. Better lighted pictures coming soon.)

So, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—truly the most wonderful time of the year. And to top it off, Alvin has now given way to Britney Spears’ “My Only Wish (This Year)” on the Music Choice Channel in the background. After choking back tears all morning during worship, it’s nice to end the day with a bit of lightheartedness. Besides, tomorrow is dissertation day, on top of a whole lot of grading as the semester winds down.

Christmas candle flower arrangement in the family room.

Image Credit: famouscelebirites.fandom.com.

Getting Our Gleam On

Here in the Valentino home, we usually put up three Christmas trees every year. The first one goes in the the family room, and it has a formal look. It’s a 7.5-ft. green tree with white steady lights, red and gold ball ornaments, pine/pinecone/berry decorations, and a string of gold beads. When finished, it looks like something that might win a bronze medal in a Better Homes & Gardens magazine contest.

The second one goes in the the living room, and it has a homey look. It’s a 7-ft. green tree with multi-colored blinking lights, garland, and a variety of ornaments. Many are homemade or were hand-crafted by the kids, but all have some sort of special significance to the family. This tree is always cute and charming, but it probably wouldn’t make it into anybody’s magazine.

The third one goes in our bedroom, and it has a space-age look. It’s a 6-foot aluminum tree with a glittery gold rotating base, a rotating color wheel with four lenses, and a slew of vintage Shiny-Brite ornaments from the mid 20th century. In one sense, it’s a bit gaudy, but in another sense, it’s personally magical because it represents my entire childhood in a single decoration. Yes, this is the Christmas tree my parents had when I was growing up in Reading, Pennsylvania. If it ever made its way into a magazine, it would probably be one published by NASA.

Evergleam aluminum Christmas trees, which were originally produced in Manitowoc, Wisconson, were all the rage beginning in the early 1960s and beyond. Today, they’re seeing a rise in popularity. There’s even an aluminum tree exhibit at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. They’re also hot on eBay every year with certain models selling for well over $1,000.

The Evergleam Christmas tree display at the Wisconsin Historical Museum.
Museum display showing our model. We still have this exact box to store our branches.

This year we put up our aluminum tree right after Thanksgiving dinner as “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” was playing in the background. We removed the curtains and placed it in the corner of the bedroom so people outside could see it from two different directions. (The other two tress will go up in the coming week or so. More pictures forthcoming.)

Everything in our setup is original except the color wheel and approximately one third of the vintage ornaments. We had to replace those items because of normal wear-and-tear, along with the fragility that comes with age. But all are exact replicas. I was especially determined to match the color wheel because it fascinated me when I was a boy. I found an exact duplicate on eBay about ten years ago, and I refused to be outbid for it.

The Valentino Evergleam in all its glory.
The magical rotating base.

I haven’t been able to find an exact match for the rotating base yet. Hopefully, that won’t be necessary, as mine still works fairly well, but it’s quite old, and I keep waiting for it to conk out. I’m not sure how much longer it can last. The tree trunk is also a bit rickety, and it lists a few degrees off plumb whenever it wants to. The silver paper wrapping around the trunk is also peeling off at places.

The family always lets me place the first ornament, which we call the “Bethlehem ball.” It’s a white glitter/aqua-blue scene of the Magi following the star to go see Jesus, painted onto a shiny silver surface. It was my brother’s favorite. He died in 2004, so we hang it in his memory, as well as my parents’. We store it in a special container during the year so it preserves well.

The Bethlehem ball, a family favorite that gets stored separately in a special container.

Christmas, of course, is the commemoration of God coming to earth 2,000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ. God sent his one and only Son—the very best he had to give—in order to redeem us and make us his own. That’s how valuable we are to him. He, too, refused to be outbid.

Image Credits: wuwm.com; pixhome.blogspot.com.

Throwback Thursday: Is That Really Me? (Part 4)

All are invited to have a chuckle at my expense (for the fourth week in a row). This shot is my sophomore year at West Virginia University. At a meet in Ohio at the end of the season, I swam 51 yards in a 50-yard race. Actually, I lunged at the wall as we always do to finish off a sprint, and I hyperextended my right arm. The timers had to pull me out of the water because I couldn’t get out myself. It was a little bit of embarrassment on top of a whole lot of pain. 

Fortunately, we were close to the Cleveland Clinic, which had a top-tier sports health center for which they were well known. They casted me up quickly, gave me some good pain meds, and minimized any damage to the ulnar nerve. My arm was numb, and I was out of commission for a few weeks. So much for swimming not being a contact sport.

Getting Things Done: Some of My Favorite Tools

All writers, researchers, educators, bloggers, and podcasters need to have good tools for the digital journey. (The “J” in my INTJ combo means that I really need to have some good tools in my belt—especially those of the organizing variety!) I’m exceedingly grateful that I do have a collection of wonderful resources to help me get things done. Below is a list some of my favorites.

The newest addition is an electronic adjustable standing desk for my home office. I love its flexibility and durability. Here’s a picture of it before I tucked the wires.

My only irritation with the setup is a literal irritation in my eyeballs. The amount of time I spend on Zoom these days (because of COVID-19) makes my eyes tired and bleary by the end of the day. So far, no headaches, but I do need to consult with my eye doctor about possible solutions. Can you tell I’ve “had it” here in this Zoom capture at my work office?

I need to stop wincing. It makes me look like I have wrinkles. 🙂 Anyway, here’s the list. Asterisks indicate my favorite productivity sites and apps. Feedly gets two asterisks because it’s beyond awesome. (No, they didn’t pay me to say that!)

Hardware

  • Apple MacBook Pro 16” (2019)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 15” (2015)
  • Apple Thunderbolt Display 27”
  • Apple Extended Bluetooth Keyboard
  • iPad Pro (2018) with Detachable Keyboard
  • HP OfficeJet 8740 Printer, Scanner, Copier, Fax
  • iPhone 7

Home Workstation

  • L-Shaped Ikea Desk Area
  • Electronic Adjustable Standing Desk
  • Lume Light Cubes
  • Sony Bluetooth Headphones

Office Workstation

  • Large Desk & Credenza
  • Personal Library Shelves
  • Brother HL-3070CW Laser Printer
  • Internet-Wifi Hub

Software Suites

  • MS Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, 365)
  • Apple (Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Reminders, Messages, FaceTime, iCloud)

Software

  • Safari (Browser)
  • Chrome (Backup Browser)
  • Start.me (Start Page and Bookmark Library) *
  • Feedly (RSS Feed Reading and Tagging) * *
  • WordPress (Personal Website and Blogging) *
  • Pocket (Webpage Storage and Tagging) *
  • WavePad (Audio Editing)
  • Moneydance (Personal Finances)
  • Logos Bibe Software (Biblical-Theological Studies) *
  • Canvas (Educational Learning Platform)
  • Zoom (Teleconferencing)

Streaming

  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime
  • Roku

Music, Radio, Podcasts

  • iTunes 
  • Spotify
  • iHeart Radio
  • Downcast
  • YouTube

Health & Fitness

  • FitBit Versa 2

What are some of your favorite tools? 

After the dissertation, the plan is to renovate the basement and turn it into a sizable home library, research center, and podcast studio.

Image Credit: challies.com.

Infinite Grace for a Finite Number of Tears

You have kept track of my every toss and turn;
You have collected my tears in your wineskin.
You have recorded each one in your ledger.
Psalm 56:8 

Easter Surprise

Many more tears will wash my face,
But each one a promise that God is mine;
For only the breakable heart can break,
And show forth the gold of image divine.

Love is exalted in grief-stained loss,
And hope brought near to vanquish the pain;
In weakness a Lamb has led the assault
On darkness of soul to Paradise gained.

Dreaming of Eden, longing for home,
Screaming for comfort and striving alone.
Then in breaks the angel of Easter surprise,
And suffering must kneel at the Savior’s throne.

Heroes indeed are my wisest friends
Who embrace their wounds as sovereignty’s call;
Fighting for courage when the mind is bent
By bitter trials where God seems small.

Yet true faith is strong, a resilient force,
Which anguish of soul lacks power to kill;
On earth, even now, every scar and thorn
Is scoffed by a Tomb lying empty still.

Dreaming of Eden, longing for home,
Screaming for comfort and striving alone.
Then in breaks the angel of Easter surprise,
And suffering must grieve at the Savior’s throne.

Soon we’ll see Him face to face.
Soon we’ll we understand the grace
That led us on a path of loss—
A path that vindicates our cross.

Dreaming of Eden, longing for home,
Screaming for comfort and striving alone.
Then in breaks the angel of Easter surprise,
And suffering must die at the Savior’s throne.

Many more tears will wash my face,
But numbered tears only can have their place.
Numbered tears only can have their place.

An Exegetical Note

Psalm 56:8 presents a translational challenge in the original Hebrew. My own resolution to the difficulty is as follows:

v. 8a

“You have kept count of my tossings (nôḏ)” = (1) moving back and forth, wandering, as of an aimless fugitive; or (2) lamenting, mourning. The first sense yields the translation “my tossings” (ESV, NRSV) and “my wanderings” (NASB); the second sense yields the translation “my sorrows” (JB, NLT) or “my lament” (NIV). Both senses can fit the larger context of Psalm 56, though the first seems more likely

v. 8b

List (śîm) my tears on your scroll (nōʾḏ)” = set, put, place, install; set down, arrange. But where are the tears “placed” or “set down”? The word nōʾḏ usually refers to a leather bottle (i.e., a wineskin or waterskin), hence the NIV footnote and other translations: “Put (śîm) my tears in your wineskin (nōʾḏ).” But some have suggested that in this occurrence, nōʾḏ should be translated “scroll” or “leather scroll” because: (1) there is a documentation/record keeping motif in the three lines of this verse, with the word “scroll” being a corresponding element to the word “book” in the next line of the parallelism; and (2) there is no record from the ancient biblical world of a practice of keeping tears in a bottle.

To these objections one could reply: (1) the word nōʾḏ is translated as “scroll” nowhere else in the Old Testament; (2) there is a poetic quality to the image of “tears in a bottle” that would need no literal attestation for it to be valid; (3) recording tears on a scroll would be just as poetic as putting tears in a bottle—“tears” being a metonymy for all kinds of negative personal thoughts and feelings that God records; indeed, tears are poetically “in the book/record” in the next line of the parallelism; and (4) HALOT cites a later use of “the little vase for tears mentioned in fairy-stories, Meuli Romanica Helvetica 20 (1943):763ff.”

Resolution

The psalmist is asking God to transform his situation in the first verse of the center section of the chiasm (i.e., v. 7). Might he not also be asking God to transform his thoughts and/or emotions in the second verse of the center section (i.e., v. 8)—just as liquid is transformed into wine inside a wineskin? Various translations go in this direction:

  • “Put my tears in your bottle.” (ESV)
  • “Put my tears in Your bottle.” (NASB)
  • “You have collected all my tears in your bottle.” (NLT)
  • “Collect my tears in your wineskin.” (JB)

The JB captures it well, I think, and the implications are devotionally rich. Not only does God notice his people tears, he collects them and transforms them (over time) into new wine. By trusting in God, then, life can go from salty to sweet, from fear to freedom, from anxiety to joy. David experienced these transformations firsthand. So can we.

old-wineskins

Image Credits: unity.org; charismamag.com.

Who Asked for Your Two Cents?

Divine math is different from what we learned in school. That’s a comfort to those of us who sometimes find it hard to reconcile our checkbooks with our bank statement. But what if we totally drained our account one day and had nothing left to reconcile? What’s our net worth then? The answer might surprise us.

Mark records the story of a poor widow who put “two very small copper coins” into the temple treasury (Mark 12:42). Surprisingly, Jesus tells his disciples that she “put in more than all the others.” At first blush it’s an odd statement because all the other people that day had surely given larger amounts than she did. So how was it possible for her tiny gift of “two cents” to be larger than theirs?

the-widow-mite-hands

Jesus said it was because they gave out of their wealth, but she put in all she had to live on. In God’s mind, the size of the sacrifice is more noteworthy than the size of the gift. In other words, the real value of an offering to God is not in the amount given, but in the cost to the giver. How much does it pinch our pocketbooks? How much does it interfere with our unnecessary splurges?

Others at the temple that day gave what they could spare. This poor widow spared nothing. And Jesus took note. But where would her next meal come from? How could she buy flour for bread, or oil for the household lamps? What about new clothes to replace her tattered garments? What about the broken plow in the field?

The real value of an offering to God is not in the amount given, but in the cost to the giver.

By offering all she had to live on, the widow was entrusting herself to God’s care. She was offering herself completely to the One she had come to the temple to worship in the first place. Indeed, for her, devotion to God and his work took priority over everything else.

Still, was it wise for the widow to empty her account? What happens now? Would God provide for her? Would she be able to eke out a living? Would her fellow Israelites—charged in the Torah with being attentive to her needs as a widow—forget about her?

widow-bible-staff

Not to worry. God has a way of taking care of the generous. On one occasion in my younger days, I emptied out our checking account completely because a man told me he had a need. I was an easy touch and quite unaware that he was a professional extortionist. The man preyed on my commitment to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, “Give to the one who asks you” (Matt 5:42a).

So I did. I gave him everything I had.

At the time, I thought it was the right thing to do, but it made me nervous. How was I going to pay our bills? How was I going to feed my family? We had two young children at the time, and I was still in seminary. We had obligations all over the place. (With a few more years under my belt now, I would handle the extortionist a bit differently today.)

money-extortion-hands

Shortly after I gave away all our money, a widow in our church (a widow!) came to me and said, “Tim, the Lord is impressing on my heart that I should pay off your student loan. I don’t know what the balance is, and I don’t really care. God has blessed me with resources at this stage in my life, and I just think he wants me to do this for you.”

I was deeply moved. The woman didn’t know I had just emptied my checking account to help somebody else. She was just walking her own journey of faith and trying to follow Christ.

As Providence would have it, the Lord intersected our paths. Amazingly, the balance on my student loan was just about double the amount in my checking account the day I emptied it. Double! God saw fit to take care of our family in a big way the very week I gave away all our money. We rejoiced and celebrated God’s goodness to us.

Document with title student loan forgiveness.

It’s a great story, but honestly, it’s an old one. It’s been a while since I’ve taken such a radical step of faith with my money like that. Maybe that’s the problem. It’s not really my money, is it?

I need to get back to those days when I acted like everything I have belongs to the Lord, because it does—a time when I was willing to fling myself into God’s arms like a toddler jumping from the top step of the living room stairs, knowing for sure daddy will catch him.

It’s time to be openhanded again and watch what God will do. Problem is, we always assume the more we have, the more we can give. That’s only partially true. The widow in Mark 12 shows us the bigger miracle—the more we share, the more we have.

We always assume the more we have, the more we can give. That’s only partially true. The widow in Mark 12 shows us the bigger miracle—the more we share, the more we have.

In the end, God has always wanted my two cents. He wants yours, too. The amazing thing is, we never have to say a word to give it.

open-hand-give

Eternal Word, only begotten Son of God,
Teach me true generosity.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give without counting the cost,
To fight heedless of wounds,
To labor without seeking rest,
To sacrifice myself without thought of any reward
Save the knowledge that I have done your will.
Amen.

– St. Ignatius of Loyola

A Sooner-Than-Expected Return

Greetings. Long time no see!

We mothballed This New Life two years ago when I started my (second) doctoral program at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, PA. I’ve been studying biblical theology ever since, and now I’m in the dissertation phase of my journey, having passed all the coursework and the comprehensive exams. (Officially, that’s called “Th.D. [cand.]” status, also known as “all but dissertation.”)

Our plan was to re-launch this website after the dissertation was complete, but several factors propelled us to open it now. Some of the reasons are COVID-19 related, and some have to do with the fact that the two churches I pastor have asked for a way to access certain resources while we’re in the process of merging our congregations and establishing a new internet presence—complete with live-streaming capabilities, digital communication apps, and an expanded radio broadcast. These items will take a while to pull together, so the re-launch of this site is an intermediate step.

Because of the dissertation, it will also take a while to re-populate the various sections of This New Life, but we have to start somewhere—so here we go! In the meantime, feel free to kick the tires on any of the few posts and pages we’ve been able to publish so far. The inaugural post is here, and our family update post is here. Each section has at least one post in it except for the popular “Connections” series, which will have to wait until after graduation.

Incidentally, all prayers are welcome for the writing of my second dissertation, as composition at this level can be awfully tedious. My working title is:

MEEKNESS AND MAJESTY: YAHWEH’S TABERNACLE
IN THE DESERT AS A REVELATION OF THE
NATURE AND WAYS OF GOD

My son, Andrew Valentino (a recently Emmy nominated photojournalist), and I are working on an interactive video to accompany the academic paper, which hopefully can be published someday as a popular-level resource for the church at large. The tabernacle has so much more to teach us than we’ve ever imagined.

In any event, it’s nice to be back. These past two years have been times of unprecedented learning, growth, fun, and flourishing, not to mention off-the-charts peace, contentment, joy, and prosperity—even in the midst of a pandemic. We hope you all are likewise blessed!

Soli Deo gloria.

Images Credits: pexels.com; hdoneconstruction.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.

valentino-family-2017-01

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.

valentino-family-2017-02

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.