What I Learned This Christmas…

1. Husbands tend to overdo the gift-giving!

2. I can’t say I am unhappy about the overdoing…I kind of enjoyed it!

3. There is something special about having the family all together.

4. Getting and wrapping everyone’s gifts is nothing to be stressed out about.

5. Sisters who live in Utah ought to come visit more often!

6. Lindsey is the most enjoyable person to give to.  At nearly twenty years old, you can give her Play Dough, and make her extremely happy!  Then you get repaid in hugs and smiles and enthusiasm over the new gift!

7. Sandy has really good taste in picking out gifts.

8. Jim and his new wife are definitely in love, and apparently have a happy, albeit busy, home.

9. Christmas trips to downtown Chicago are just as fun as they always were.

10. It is good to see loved ones you haven’t seen in a very long time.

11. Daddies are pushovers for daughters!  (And I am not just talking about my Dad and I!)

12. There’s something special about Moms –all of them.

13. Jim is all grown up now…no longer a nerdy little brother!  Just teasing, Jim!

14. Adam and Catie are not grown up…still ner–…I mean,  –sorry about that Adam and Catie!

15. Mom Murdock really does make the best peanut butter balls.

16. Next time I go to Maggianos, I am going to order Chicken with Lemon Picatta!

17. Christmas Goodie trays will never go out of style…not as long as we’re all still munching!

18. Don’t plan to crochet too many scarfs for Christmas gifts…you may not have enough time!

19. It is fun to keep Christmas with friends…friends from around the world…Jamaica, Mongolia…

20. Christmas is all about Emmanuel – “God with us.”

21. We do not deserve a Saviour, but He still came.

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people…

Luke 1:46,47,68

Our Attempt at Italian Beef


Lately, Andrea and I have been missing some Chicago street food “delicacies”–especially the famous Italian Beef sandwich.  Our favorite is form Al’s #1 Italian Beef on the corner of Wells and Ontario.  It is SO juicy and mouth- wateringly delicious!  There is nothing close to it out here in the east.  Some York County favorites are crab cakes and pickled beet eggs–not quite a Chicago hot dog or Italian Beef.  So last night, we decided to make our own!

We found what looked like a good recipe online, and tried it out.  After marinating over night, we heated up the juice and dipped that beef in it…very good!  We found most of the ingredients we needed except giardinara (try finding THAT in PA).  The thing most native Chicagoans find tasteful (including my wife), is to dip the whole sandwich back into the juice.  Italian beef is overflowing with all kinds spices and flavor.  We just finished eating a few minutes ago, and were pretty impressed.  Now it wasn’t quite up to par with Al’s, Portillo’s, or the Fairhaven cafeteria, but it was close.  A valiant attempt indeed!

Life at Fairhaven Baptist College—Junior Year

By early August of 2007, Andrea was teaching in Mexico, and I knew perhaps the most difficult year in college was going to be my junior year.  A small part of me had a difficult time returning to college without Andrea there.  Our little relationship had grown in the few months we had been together.  We communicated a few times a week via a Vonage telephone line, and after her being in Mexico just a month, I felt like I had a little connection to that place because of her.

One of the important things to all returning dormitory students at Fairhaven is who your roommates are going to be for the year.  I mean, you are going to be living with that person for eight months or so!  I remember calling friends just before college to see who they were with, and then I remember hearing who mine were…

Count It All Joy

Dustin Speckhals, Julian Balatbat, and Nathan Rader—those were the names on the dorm assignment list for Room #2: Ed Weimer Men’s Dormitory.  Julian was someone on the basketball team with me who I knew at the time just a little, and Nate was a missionary kid from Vallegrande, Bolivia in South America who came to study for a year after finishing his church’s Bible Institute on the field.  What friends they turned out to be, and continue to be to this day!  I could not have had better friends and roommates.

Like always, the fall semester began with the Stewardship Banquet and Fall Push.  College orientation was in the brand new dining hall for the first time that year, but something was a bit unusual.  Mrs. Leslie, Andrea’s mother and the long time Dean of Women at Fairhaven, was feeling sick and was not able to attend the orientation.  From what I remember, she continued to not feel well for the next week, and went to the hospital on September 11 to find out what was wrong.  That night, Andrea called me with a saddened and heavy heart: her mom had cancer that tended to be terminal.  For the next year and a half, she battled that cancer.  I know that the Leslie family’s life was changed from then on; for the better and to the Glory of God.  For her battle with cancer, Mrs. Leslie gave numerous testimonies of how God had worked revival in her heart.  I also knew that Andrea was in Mexico, and would have a little harder time with it compared to the rest of her family.  God would certainly work in the coming months through answered prayer and biblical miracles.

I don’t remember too much else from that September, except for a smooth Zoo Day (which is always a blessing and a half!) and a severe drop in our bus’s attendance after the campaign.  God would change that, though.  By late October, it seemed as if our bus had hit the doldrums.   No new families were being contacted, and spirit of the kids was dropping at the same time.  It was about that time I remember hearing a sermon on simple faith that God can do anything.  We had hit the low point in early November when a family that helped on our bus was scheduled to bring jello cups for a treat.  They told us on Saturday that they had made 50 cups.  We laughed to ourselves and said, “We’ll never have that many…maybe 30 riders at the most!”  I believe God was building our trust in Him.  That Sunday, “out of no where” 53 came to church!  From then on, our bus never looked back, praise God!  People were being saved and baptized, as well as the blessing of good attendance.  I loved seeing God do that, and I truly enjoyed my Junior year in southwest Gary on Bus #101!

The Candy Sale at Fairhaven Baptist Academy is something to behold.  Twice a year, preschoolers all the way up to twelfth graders try to sell chocolate to win a few rewards here and there and help keep school tuition low (amongst the lowest in the nation in private Christian schools, I believe).  Those in college may help a family in the academy if they wish—hey, and you get a day off of school too!  I was able to help one staff member’s family all four years of college; so that would be eight times total, I think.  It is a joy to go out with a six or seven year old for a day and help them meet there goal.   This may sound crazy, but I even learned some things from it too!

In mid-November, we had a mission agency representative (that most of us knew) in to preach a couple of chapel services.  I have always loved his preaching, and I would say he is one of my favorite preachers also.  After one message, he asked for a couple of college men to accompany him to a church to help him present the work of his board.  It happened to be a free day for me, so I asked if I could go with him.  It also happened to be one of the most profitable times for me in college.  Ironically, the same mission agency that he was representing was also the one that hired Andrea to be the teacher for their language school in Mexico.  It was a four-hour one way trip to that church in northern Michigan; but the time flew by.  The representative, another college student, and I talked about missions basically the whole time.  We spoke of David Livingstone, Adoniram Judson, and many others.  He inspired me to read more missionary biographies, one of which is a favorite of mine now: Daktar: Diplomat to Bangledesh. It all happened on my birthday too—what a gift!

My third year of the Christmas Lights activity came in early December, like usual.  Five friends and I ventured to Gino’s East of Chicago for a ‘delicioso’ version of the famous Chicago deep dish pizza.  I had no idea that at that same corner of Gino’s East—18 months from then I would be making wonderful memories with my wife on our honeymoon taking pictures and eating (of course!). We had a great time together with just five guys.  We got to see some $800 dollar a night hotel rooms, drink a way-overpriced coffee at Starbucks, and watch the snow fly of course!  Some of the students that year were a bit disappointed, though, because the activity was cut short by an hour so we could have dessert and some entertainment back at school.  That was fun, but I think we all liked the time in Chicago better…so we switched back to normal the next year.

Christmas Break of my junior year was full of memories.  Andrea had four and a half weeks off from school, so she was able to fly back from Mexico and spend Christmas at home.  She came and spent a few days with my family also in Michigan, where we went sledding, ate at the world-famous Zendher’s of Frankenmuth, MI, and got to know each other a lot more.  On the day after Christmas, I went with Andrea’s family to take Mrs. Leslie to the hospital for her fourth chemotherapy treatment.  Before that, we spent time walking around downtown Chicago and enjoying the Christmas season.  What a wonderful time that was to spend with the family!

A Christmas Day surprise: the moment I walked in the door

The second semester began two weeks before Andrea was to fly back to Mexico…so for that time, I was not a ‘single’ college student!  During the rest of the semester, we were apart!  Andrea flew back in the middle of January, and I knew I would miss her even more than before (yes, I know, I tried not to be too ‘mushy’!).  However, I still had the two greatest roommates I could ask for.  We all got along GREAT.  I don’t remember a time we got into a real argument.  I was a room captain, but never had to use my room captain position over them.  They followed college guidelines, worked hard, had a great attitude, and were truly seeking after God.  We enjoyed going out places together too…whether it was George’s Gyro Spot, a Wal-Mart trip, a hike in the dunes, playing racquetball, or just hanging out in the room (which had to be stopped sometimes; we would get going and never get anything done!).  Then we had our “fourth roommate” that year—Tyler Brock from Rapid City, SD.  He didn’t sleep in our room, but was basically there during any other free time!

Now before you think we are weirdo's all wearing the same shirt, think again. This was a hilarious coincidence that happened: one Sunday evening after church, we all came back to the dorm to change and play basketball, I think. None of us knew that we had the same shirts, and none of us were in the room while the other was changing either. Eventually, Julian, Nate, Tyler, and I ended up talking in the room, when Tyler started laughing hysterically (the “Tyler Laugh” as we called it) and said we were all wearing the same shirt. We thought that was funny, so Tyler took this picture of my roommates and me.

Another goofy thing we did that year was celebrate Cinco de Mayo.  None of us are Mexicans, but we all had some connection to Mexico, we thought (Dustin’s girlfriend was in Mexico, Julian looks Mexican [he’s really Filipino], and Nate talks like he’s Mexican [he spoke Spanish fluently as a missionary in Bolivia]).  So we celebrated Cinco de Mayo by wearing the colors of the Mexican flag on our respective ties during classes that day: a red, a white, and a green one.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was able to be on Fairhaven’s intercollegiate basketball team all four years in college.  I definitely was not the best player on the team, or even close to it.  I guess my motto was “Leave it all on the court.”  Put your all into practice, put even more into the game, and work hard.  Our team was never “great,” and we knew we never would be overflowing with talent—we were preacher boys, not all-stars!  We always tried to put up a good fight on the court.  We never wanted to leave feeling we had not given our all.  Our coach often emphasized the idea of “riding the bubble,” which I learned is not just a basketball principle.  You need to make the opponent think you are crazy; by that he meant dive for every loose ball, be super-aggressive, and show strength—but never to the point where you lose your head, make stupid fouls, or get a technical foul.  Ride the bubble of “insanity” as much as you can, but never pop that bubble.  My junior year of playing was the most exciting.  We had a good number of close games, a good record, and the “Revenge of the Snowman” game (a story for yet another post!).  Sometimes I didn’t like how my coaches pushed me, but now I realize why.  I believe that their pushing me not only made me a better player, but a better person also.


Wow, the ’07-’08 year was packed!  For Spring Break in 2008, I was able to go to Mexico and visit Andrea.  I loved the time I spent there, and appreciated everyone’s hospitality to me.  Everything was eye-opening and extremely interesting to me.  I loved learning about their culture and even the language some.  God used that trip in my life to give me more of burden for foreign missions also, on top of getting to see Andrea.


I returned in early April after eight days south of the border.  When I returned, I realized how fast the semester had gone.  We were already in the last several weeks of school, and the Preaching Conference was in just two weeks.  Hebrew History was probably the class with the most work.  We were required to outline over the course of two semesters the entire books of the Bible from Genesis to Esther.  For most of us, we had over 100 pages a piece, with some much more.  The Kings Project (I Samuel to II Chronicles) ended up being the most dreaded piece of the whole puzzle.  By the end of the year, however, we all gained a lot of knowledge from Hebrew History.

Overall, my grades were doing fine, but I know now that my spiritual life was lacking then.  Thank God, Preaching Conference came right when I needed it most.  God greatly worked on my heart for the few months following in areas mainly focusing around always putting Him first: in devotion, in service, and in prayer.  God worked through His Word and revived me during a critical time: I was beginning to realize how soon I would be done with school and how serious I had to be about serving Him after college.  It would never come “naturally” because of what I had learned so far in college.  It had to come by putting the Lord first in EVERYTHING.  During our end-of-the-year college activity at Turkey Run State Park, God also worked on my heart.  During a testimony time in the evening, and then the bus trip home talking with other students, I was convicted about just how serious I had to be in order to be effective for our Savior.  I was on a spiritual high coming out of college, and it was not about to stop either.

A few other male students and I were invited to go with an evangelist from Fairhaven to basically knock on doors for twelve days straight.  I was able to take the days off of work and head up to London, Ontario, Canada.  God put a serious burden in my heart during that time as well.  Half-way through our trip, I began to LOVE knocking on doors and witnessing to people with a new passion.  It was a true joy to see a few people saved during that church’s revival meetings, and know that God was all in it.  With all that, I stayed with a family that was about as hospitable as can be.  The whole church was a blessing to my heart during that short time.

God had prepared my heart and life during the last few months to fully surrender to His will.  I believe with all of my heart that I would not be where I am today if it was not for the revival God worked in my heart that spring and summer.  There I was, heading into my last year of college.  Some of the biggest decisions of my life were ahead of me in the coming year: marriage, a place to serve, and finishing strong.  It was to be a fruitful and exciting senior year to come.