I’m Fine Right Here

I’m Fine Right Here

For some time now, I’ve woken up every Sunday and thought to myself, “What am I going to do today?” And with the exception of the obligatory Fall tradition that is seven hours of commercial-free football on NFL RedZone, the answer is usually, “Whatever the heck I want to do today.”

I’ve not been to church since November 8, 2020. Even this is somewhat of a misnomer given that day was my last day of work at Wiregrass Church in Dothan, Alabama. As the Director of Guest Services, my Sundays were busy, tending to our volunteers and working to create the most welcoming environment possible for our guests. Across both services, there was very little of the message I could actually take in. Even before I became part of the staff, I was active in volunteering at the church, so it’s hard for me to say when was the last time I simply walked into church, took in the sermon, and walked out.

I look back fondly at my time at Wiregrass, specifically interacting and working with my volunteer team. Being able to serve them so they could serve others was always the highlight of my week. But as I look back – and if I am honest with myself – I don’t miss it.

I don’t know what exactly caused the internal friction that lead me to resign from my position with the church, and I cannot put into words the tension I felt the last several months before I left. But it was there and it was palpable and it was real. “I just can’t do this anymore,” kept ringing in my thoughts as I drafted my resignation letter.

For the better part of two years, I’ve been grappling with that experience and the absolute non-interest I have in returning to a church environment. Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with my faith. My relationship with God is quite possibly the strongest it has ever been. Challenges with my work and home life have led me to trust in Him more, and I continue to learn to surrender my burdens to His will. My days begin with time in Scripture and my prayers have been more intentional.

Still, there’s a part of me that has felt off-kilter or broken because going to church every week was such a part of my normal for so long. What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel this way? Am I doing something wrong? How do I fix this? Do I need to fix this? Pangs of guilt and self-condemnation would roll over me from time to time as quiet Sunday mornings gave way to productive Sunday afternoons.

Then I came across this post by John Pavlovitz. John’s voice is not for everyone, but it resonates with me. He has the ability to put into words many of the thoughts and feelings I carry in my heart as I look across the landscape of our country. Undoubtedly, there will be many who immediately dismiss John’s writings because of his stance on issues. I get that. Yet, I find the nuance of his words to be comforting. His posts come from a place of compassion and are driven by his conviction to see others not as different, or dangerous, or enemies, but rather as people who are to be loved. His words affirm the notion of seeking reconciliation of differences through understanding and not binary platitudes that promote further division.

In reading his post, I was struck by something he said:

“Any guilt you feel is unwarranted. You aren’t rejecting God as much as you are removing yourself from harm’s way. You’re refusing to wear something that no longer fits. You’ve outgrown this thing that doesn’t feel like Love anymore and you are seeking something that does—and this is what the spiritual journey has always been.”

Perhaps I am, for now, an outsider looking in. Perhaps this is a season in my life in which I’ve relegated myself to the sidelines of formal religion. Perhaps a year from now I will look back at this blog post and laugh as I get ready to go to a Sunday church service. But what I do know is I find God in the interactions I have with my neighbors, my family, and my friends. I know that a community of two can be as rewarding and enriching as a community of two hundred. I know that I can be the church wherever I am, and that I should strive to reflect God’s love in all that I do, regardless of what day of the week it is.

Shark Thank

Shark Thank

It’s been over a year since I post to my blog. To say these last 365+ days have been a whirlwind is quite an understatement. Still, it feels good to shake off the cobwebs and put fingertips to keys. The question is, however, where to begin?

On Sunday, February 28, 2021, Lee and I were sitting in the attic of our rental home in Dothan, Alabama. We were beginning the ever-exciting process of going through all the ‘stuff’ in the attic, diligently placing items in one of three piles: keep, sell, donate. As the mundane became yawn-inducing, my phone rang. I did not recognize the name on the caller ID, but my wife did. It was the name of a former colleague of hers from years ago. This colleague was now a recruiter for a technology company, and she was asking if I’d be interested in an interview for an opportunity in her organization.

Months earlier, I resigned from my previous job. It was a culmination of multiple issues that prompted me to step away from a role I thoroughly enjoyed, but in the end, I honestly felt the best decision for me was to leave. I took the opportunity to try and gain traction with the small business my wife and I started in 2019, but one client later, I realized the entrepreneurial option was not going to get it done for me. Needless to say, I emphatically said yes to the interview.

The following morning, I had a virtual interview via Microsoft Teams. Twenty-fours later, I had an offer sheet from the company. This new employment, one that is for a remote position, opened the door to the idea of house shopping and moving back to Florida. We contacted a realtor, made an impromptu trip to Tampa, had a maniacal weekend attending open houses and meeting with builders, and five days later we were under contract to build a new house.

In less time than you can say, “What the hell just happened?”, I went from unemployed to on the hook for a large amount of money. Insane doesn’t quite explain the whole experience, but in a lot of ways, it kinda does.

Fast forward through planning a move, finding an apartment, actually starting the new job, coming up to speed with the reality of 15-hour days, packing, cleaning, actually moving, unpacking, settling in; the chaos had no end. It was now May 1, the movers finished unloading all our stuff into our new apartment, and I was sitting at a German pub in New Tampa eating lunch with my best friend. Proximity to my children and my peeps was such a huge reason Lee and I decided to return to the Tampa Bay area, and although I was mentally and physically exhausted post-move, I was also insanely happy to be home.

The year zipped by as we tracked the progress of the house build, got to know our new neighbors at the apartment complex, routinely spent time with my daughter and son (so amazing), languished through a two-month delay in the build due to lack of availability of windows, saw our target completion date come and go, and rang in the new year with nervous anticipation as our lease was coming to an end and we still did not have a set closing date on the house.

Philippians 4:6 teaches us to not worry about anything and to pray about everything. There’s an “easier said than done” aspect about that particular verse in Scripture, but it was one to which we strived to adhere as the level of uncertainty only seemed to mount. And in the end, God, in His perfect timing, opened the doors for us to go month-to-month at the apartment and delivered a closing date for the new house. We closed on February 16, 2022, three hundred forty-two days after we signed the contract with our builder. We moved two weeks later, and here I sit, surrounded once again by boxes and chaos.

I sit here recapping the year that was on the one-year anniversary of my start date with my employer. I can’t believe it’s been a year, and at the same time, it feels like five. I’ve learned so much and have had the pleasure of working with so many excellent people, and it’s so fulfilling to play a small part in a program that helps others in their time of hurt and need.

But this blog post is not about the doors that opened for me as much as it is about the big door that opened for my daughter. As I capped off the workday with a mind full of retrospection, my daughter called to tell me the news she’s been accepted to graduate school. Now, all my brain can do is look ahead and start thinking about the days, weeks, and months that are yet to come.

My giddiness and excitement for the next step in my daughter’s dream becoming a reality are tempered by the realization she will no longer be only twenty minutes away. Instead, she will be on her own, three and a half hours away, her wings outstretched as she soars into this new chapter of her adult life. Natalie will pursue a Master of Science in Nutrition at Nova Southeastern University (#GoSharks), and I know she will excel in every aspect of her studies. I’ve watched in awe as she completed coursework to qualify for this graduate program, and now that investment in herself is paying dividends. Her excitement is palpable, and I’m so eager to watch with vicarious eyes the journey she’s about to undertake.

In this past year, God has granted me a new job, a new residence, a new house, and a wonderful and eclectic collection of new friends. Yet the one thing for which I am most thankful is the experience of hearing my daughter’s elated voice as she said, “I got in!” As a parent, that feeling of sharing in the joy of your child never gets old.

Remembering Terry

Remembering Terry

There are few things in life more comforting than certainty. There is no event more requiring of comfort than death.

Losing a loved one is never easy. Whether their passing was sudden or at the end of a long and arduous battle with illness and declining health, we are never really ready to say goodbye. And it’s with heartfelt sadness that we say goodbye to Uncle Terry. More than just a patriarch for the family. More than just a farmer in the fields of Alabama. More than just a career lineman for the phone company. Coleman Terry Walker was, first and foremost, a man after God’s heart.

Terry was a father figure to me. I met him two years after my dad passed away in 2004, and I soon came to realize he was the stately male influence I needed in my adult life. Through his anecdotal charm and spiritually influenced example, Terry was the compass that helped direct me in my late thirties and through my forties towards a true North. The man I knew was the embodiment of compassion and kindness, ever listening to what you had to say, but forever steadfast in his principles and love of Scripture.

Strong but not overbearing, supportive but not one to coddle, Terry’s demeanor was an even keel in the turbulence of life. Even in the midst of the most unspeakable of tragedies, Terry anchored a family’s grief because he himself was anchored in the Word of God.

In this time of sadness, we all take comfort in the certainty that Terry is in the presence of our Lord and Savior. There is no doubt. We are all filled with the assurance he is face to face with the creator of the universe, Terry’s “aw-shucks” grin bigger than it’s ever been. This certainty is a comfort that ever so briefly expels our pain and our sorrow, and it’s a comfort to which we cling with every ounce of our being as we struggle to say goodbye to such an indelible man.

The cliché is true: God really did break the mold when He made Terry.

And as we struggle to hold back the tears, we smile at the idea of a grandfather, a man taken in the twilight of a life well-lived, reunited with his granddaughter who was called home in the early dawn of hers. May the joy of their reunion overcome the sadness in our own hearts.

No Question About It

No Question About It

Today was the final airing of the ESPN show Highly Questionable with Dan Le Batard. For those who are unaware, HQ is a sports-talk show launched in 2011 featuring former Miami Herald columnist and ESPN personality Dan Le Batard and his father Gonzalez.

The show was rooted in irreverence and was born from a bit Dan would do on his radio show where he would call his father, affectionately known as Papi, surreptitiously record the conversations, and then play them on air. There was never a more honest sports take than the ones that came from Papi, especially when he would talk about the Marlins or the Dolphins.

In the nearly ten years the show was on the air, it was a staple of my daily sports diet. I was sure to set my DVR to record the show, and it always served as comfort food for my soul. Not because of the sports topics. As I said earlier, the show made it a point to never take itself too seriously. What drew me in day after day was the evident joy Dan had in doing that show with his father.

Dan Le Batard and I share similar backgrounds in that we’re both products of parents fleeing communist Cuba and we were both raised in South Florida. I’ve never had the privilege of meeting Dan, but the fact I’ve always been a fan of his writing, I’d listen to his radio show daily, and the geographical kinship of growing up in the 3-0-5 makes it feels like I’ve known him my whole life.

As I started writing in 2004, I found myself trying to model my work after Dan’s. His sentence structures, the way he’d formulate an argument, his professional approach, even when injected with personal vulnerability; they all contributed to my personal writing style. For so many years he’s been my mentor and he doesn’t even know it.

Yet it’s not the technical aspects of his writing I admire most. As his popularity, and subsequently his influence, has increased. Dan has consistently used that leverage to help those around him. With his show, he made room on the marquee for Bomani Jones. He didn’t have to share the spotlight of his television series, but doing so undoubtedly improved the product and kept quality talent at the network (Jones was being courted by Fox at the time). In his contracts with ESPN, Le Batard negotiated creative control over money because not only did he want to do the show his way, he wanted to do it with his people. In fact, part of the reason Le Batard left ESPN is because they included one of his producers in their most recent round of layoffs, a move that caught Dan by surprise.

To paraphrase Dan, it’s not about reaching the mountaintop. It’s about sharing the view with the people you love.

As I watched his show daily, I’d watch with admiration a man who never made it about “look at me,” but rather always made it about “look at us.” I’d watch a man who made it a point to use his talents and opportunities as a means to constantly thank his parents for the sacrifices they made. I’d watch with vicarious envy as he got to share those special moments on-air with his dad, me having lost my father in 2004. As he gave his tear-filled goodbye on his final show, I watched, misty-eyed myself, with heartfelt appreciation at the impact Dan has made in my life.

I look forward to what the future has in store for him, and I know the next decade of his career will be equally entertaining, informative, and inspiring.

Thank you, Dan.

Oh Lordy

Oh Lordy

When I first started using social media back in 2008, I am pretty sure my online bio read, “Connecting people and affecting change.” It was more an ideal than a reality, but it spoke to what I hoped I could do using the platforms available to me.

Over a decade removed from those noob beginnings, I look back and like to think I’ve done well with the ‘connecting people’ part. Among my circle of friends, I find myself as the one they go to with questions or issues in hopes I can point them in the right direction. I think we all, for the most part, do that for those with whom we share a relationship, but I feel blessed to have a penchant for the “I know a guy” scenario that comes up in conversation.

As for affecting change, that’s a whole different story.

I guess the first question to ask is, “positive or negative change?” It doesn’t take a special skill to leave a wake of destruction, and depending on who you ask – or when you asked them – I have a C.V. full of ‘negative change’ experiences.

But in all seriousness, there is something extraordinarily special about being able to come into a situation, a moment, or even a person’s life and make a positive impact. Being an agent of change for the better is what we should all strive to do, and I was reminded of that as I watched Netflix.

Lee and I are into Season 2 of The Crown, and in episode 5 we’re introduced to Lord Altrincham, a writer who publishes his opinions of the Queen with regards to her presence as the sovereign of Britain. Here is an excerpt from an article in Town & Country Magazine outlining the plot of this episode:

Lord Altrincham (who was later known as John Grigg after he disclaimed his title in 1963) shook Britain when he suggested that the Queen and the courtiers who supported her were out of touch with her subjects.

I know nothing of British Royalty and the levels of sophistication required to run in those circles and keep those traditions that date back centuries. Still, I understand how important they are to the British people, and I can only imagine the gumption it took for Lord Altrincham to publicly air his grievances. Yet he did, and although he initially took a beating for it – both figuratively and literally – in the end, he was proven right.

What stood out to me in the episode is when Altrincham sought counsel from his peers and one of them told him (with regards to appearing on a television interview show to defend his position), “…keep your cool under his scrutiny, make your case politely, respectfully, intelligently. It could turn people around.” He did just that, both on live air and in the audience of the Queen. He never made it about himself. It was always about the country he loved.

In the end, he affected change. He did so with his steadfastness and humility.

I’ve failed, rather spectacularly at times, in the department of humility when it comes to situations like this. In my passion and zeal to argue a point, the whole, “make your case politely (and) respectfully” has gone out the window. It’s a work in progress for me, but that shouldn’t prevent me, or any of us, from standing up and saying what we feel is the right and the just thing in the moment.

Affecting change takes guts and risks unpopularity. More importantly, however, is that affecting change is never realized when we keep our mouths shut.

John Grigg – Image via Wikipedia

Scan Dull

Scan Dull

I feel very blessed my mother took and kept so many photographs when I was a kid. I remember vividly how she wouldn’t go anywhere without her Kodak 110 camera, and the excitement of picking up the prints once the film was developed. (If you were born after the year 2000, Google ‘film’ so you’ll know what I am talking about.)

When my mom passed away in August, my wife and I took some time to clean out her house. Included among her possessions were mounds and mounds of photographs. Pictures from when I was months old to endless pictures of her five grandchildren. With mournful excitement (if there is such a thing), I brought them home with the idea of scanning them all and making them available online for my family to enjoy.

Well … you know what they say about good intentions.

This project has been more time consuming than I had originally anticipated. To date, I’ve scanned about 140 images, and I probably have a thousand to go. As I sat down at my laptop this afternoon thinking I’ll knock out all these pics while I watch NFL Redzone, I had no idea this effort would be so slow and mundane.  Granted, part of it is my choice to make sure each photo is properly tagged, but I guess I was kidding myself I would be able to knock out in a day or two.

Still, it’s great to go through these little pieces of paper, so many of them over forty years old, and re-living those moments that were so innocent, fun-filled, and foundational to who I am today. There have been so many times that I’ve caught myself saying, “Wow. I had forgotten about this!”

The OG Rid’n Dirty

In a way it makes me miss and long for my parents, but this project also makes me better appreciate the blessing that was my childhood and the love I received from my parents. And the best part of the photos I scanned today is they are all pics of me with my brother. Going through all these pictures and feeling all the feels was really … revealing.

One Kay

One Kay

This marks my 1000th blog post on my personal blog. Some have been short, throw-away posts. Others have been “pour my heart out, here’s an intimate look into my soul” posts. All have, in some way, reflected who I am at the time they were written.

It’s hard to believe that what started out as self-prescribed therapy back in 2004 has lasted this long and come this far. Call it a hobby or pastime or passion; my writing has not only opened doors for new opportunities and experiences, it has also helped me get through so much crap in my life.

In reality, one thousand posts in sixteen years is not impressive at all. That amounts to about sixty-two posts per year. By contrast, I’ve posted every day this month, so the numbers are most definitely skewed to hide the large spans of time when I ignored my blogging. Nevertheless, a milestone is a milestone, and I want to celebrate this one by saying thank you to the person who made it possible.

When I first started writing, there were various people and reasons as to why I persevered. Depression, love, ego are just some of the driving factors that pushed me to move my thoughts from my head onto the screen of my laptop. But pretty consistently since January 2006, the main engine behind my writing has been my now wife Lee.

When we met, she was intrigued by and then supportive of my writing. I know she made it into several posts early in our relationship in 2005. But since the moment our relationship became serious and through the time when we married and in the eleven years since, I’ve had no bigger fan and no greater reason to write than my wife.

Lee knows me and understands me and continues to love me nonetheless. She also appreciates what writing does for me in terms of being an outlet for emotions that might otherwise manifest themselves in negative ways if left alone. Lee pushes me to write better and challenges me to think it through before pressing the Publish button.

I would most likely not be writing this blog right now if not for her, and this milestone of 1000 posts would seem like an eternity away. So in this year where we’ve focused on so much negative and bad, I want to take a moment to celebrate the most positive and wonderful thing in my life: the love and support of my wife.


Lee,

All those old posts seem like a lifetime ago. It’s my prayer that you lend me your wisdom and non-stop encouragement as I write about this adventure we get to share in the lifetime that’s still ahead of us.

I love you.