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.

Reflections on Blessings

Reflections on Blessings

I can only imagine how difficult this Thanksgiving Day is for so many people. In a year that brought us the tragedy of a pandemic, the fallout of economic downturn, and the futility of partisan politics, I can see where someone might struggle to feel grateful.

We all have our struggles and we all have our pains. But given a year that has left so many bereft of joy, we find blessing in the little things of our every day. Blessing is the mortar that binds us together in the most difficult of times. Blessing is all around us. We just have to look.

It’s in the friendship that endures time and is always there for you, good or bad.

It’s in the child you never thought you could have, but thanks to science, technology, and Gods’ grace you are holding her in your arms.

It’s in the parent who sacrificed of herself so you can realize a dream.

It’s in the neighbor who tends to your plants when you go away for the weekend.

It’s in the manager at work who understands and empathizes with your situation and allows you to leave a little early so you can be home for your children.

It’s in the pet that loves you unconditionally and can’t wait to slobber you with kisses when you get home.

It’s in the nurse who cared for your father while he was ill as if she were caring for her own family.

It’s in the college roommate who still checks up on you all these decades since you both graduated.

The list is endless. If we all stopped and took a moment, we could come up with an array of people, moments, experiences, and opportunities for which we’re thankful. Even amidst the craptastic-ness of 2020, there is so much thanksgiving to be had.

My prayer for all of us is to take a couple of minutes of the 1,440 minutes God has given us today and to quietly and privately give Him thanks. It could be one thing. It could be all the things. But by focusing on gratitude, we take a step toward healing, growing, and coming together as members of His family, and I think we can all agree feeling good and positive is something every one of us can use this year.


Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. May God’s blessing be upon you.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

You’ve Got Mail

You’ve Got Mail

One of the luxuries of being in-between careers is having the time to go through and clean up emails. If you’re like me, you’ve probably subscribed to a slew of blogs and newsletters for which you receive emails daily. I always think I’ll make the time to stay on top of all these mailings, but the truth is that never happens.

Unless, of course, you don’t have a job to go to.

So as I was persuing my increasingly-cluttered inbox, I came across an email from Carey Niewhof entitled, “So You Want to Quit…” The title of the message caught my eye, and I dove into the accompanying post for the email.

In it, Niewhof is speaking primarily to individuals in pastoral roles looking to make a change in their work lives. Although not exactly 100% applicable to my situation, there are several parallels to what Carey outlines and what I experienced. What really stuck out to me was this comment:

Running Toward Your Future Is Better Than Running Away From Your Past

Here’s an excerpt of what Carey says about that.

So maybe you are called to leave. Maybe your season is legitimately coming to an end.

If you can—and in a carefully discerned departure you usually have time to do this before you go— ask yourself what you’re called to next.

Find some wise counsel around you who can help you discern what’s next before you leave what’s now.

Running toward your future is a much better move than running away from your past.

Included in this verbiage was a link to a previous post entitled 7 Signs It’s Time to Leave. Talk about a serendipitous find! I won’t bore you with the details, but my reaction to items outlined by Niewhof definitely made me feel even more confident about my decision to make a change. There was one point in particular that resonated with me.

You Feel Like a Fish Out of Water

Maybe you’re largely the same but the organization shifts, not in terms of vision, but in terms of style, culture, and feel.

That’s the best way I can explain the genesis of my departure. There was a cultural shift in the brief year I was with my previous employer, and it was clear I was no longer a good fit within that organization. Working with my volunteers was still great. The horizontal relationships I shared with my peers were amazing (and I miss that so much). But the vertical relationship within the organization just didn’t feel the same, and I knew that leaving when I did was the prudent solution to that situation.


I firmly believe coincidence is God showing off, and it’s no coincidence the Holy Spirit directed me to these emails today.

Now … if I can only focus on the remaining five-hundred seventy-three unread messages.

Getting A Lift

Getting A Lift

I was on my way to a session with my counselor this morning, and I was a little preoccupied about how the meeting would go. I knew the importance of the session given we’re in the middle of a pandemic and he recommended we meet in person (our previous sessions were via Zoom).

I had about a twenty-minute drive to his office. I connected my phone to my car, put the address into Waze, and toggled over to Spotify.

“What do I want to listen to this morning?”

It’s a little bit frustrating when I have access at my fingertips to almost every song in the history of music and I stumble mentally trying to figure out what to play. I’m a little boring when I am by myself in the car. I tend to stick to playlists from my favorite musicians and bands (Billy Joel, NEEDTOBREATHE, Van Halen, Will Hoge, and, of course, Sister Hazel). I also like to lose myself in 80’s and 90’s rock. Seriously, I can listen to Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind all day.

Then like a whisper, the Holy Spirit prompted me to a Sister Hazel album from 2004.

To say 2004 was a bad year for me is a gross understatement, and I took so much solace in listening to Lift, especially when preparing my father’s eulogy. I can’t claim it as my favorite Hazel album, but I do find it to be the most lyrically mature collection of songs they’ve put out. There’s so much depth to every song, and – if you’ll excuse the pun – the album really lifts me up every time I listen to it.

I got to track nine, Another Me, and I realized what I needed to focus on in my counseling session. This song brought me back to my one-bedroom apartment, the place I called home following the end of my first marriage. As I was dealing with divorce and the death of my dad, I struggled with dark moments and I feel beyond blessed to have come out on the other side of that season.

And I’m waiting for another me
One that can change the pain of yesterday
Carry me through another day
And I’m waiting for another me
One in between the burn
And the lessons learned
‘Cause being me ain’t no way to be

I cannot accurately put into words how much I related to those lyrics sixteen years ago, and I honestly believe this song helped me survive. I mean that in a literal sense.

So as I pulled into my counselor’s office, I was able to discuss with him an event during that time in my life I feel is at the root of the problems I’ve been facing. We’re working on reframing that memory so that it’s still there but no longer triggering me at a subconscious level.

I want to get better. I want to feel better. I want to be better. The only way I’ll achieve that is by exploring what is preventing me from being where I need to be emotionally. God knows this, and His Holy Spirit helped me press play on this new chapter in my life. He lifted me up indeed!

In An Instant

Inspiration can take on strange forms, and as I’ve been contemplating moving into an entrepreneurial space, I’ve been hiding my fears by being productive in non-important ways.

Today I was perusing Instagram and trying not to think of the myriad of things that need to happen before I feel I am ready for that next step. And as I was scrolling past pictures of children I knew who are now adults (where does the time go?), I came across the following posts back-to-back.



The Holy Spirit is always going to do His thing when it comes to providing inspiration and direction, and today’s IG time is just continued affirmation that my recent decision and my future hopes are on the right track.

Lots of Likes for the Holy Ghost tonight!

Consistency

Consistency

In typical, late-to-the-party fashion, my wife and I began watching The Crown on Netflix today. Truth be told, I had a passing interest in the show. The Royals and the whole British monarchy is not my cup of tea (pun intended), but I do love watching Olivia Colman on screen. Also, the new season of the show introduces the storyline of Princess Diana, and this is enough to pique my interest to start watching the show.

I feel privileged to have experienced Diana’s story in my lifetime, and I remember mourning her tragic death in the way I would have mourned a family member. She was beyond the title of a celebrity. Hers was a persona that transcended culture and defied explanation, and it’s a shame she was taken from us far too soon.

Growing up, Don Shula was the long-time coach of the Miami Dolphins, and as far as I was concerned, he always would be. But then he retired following the 1995 season and, sadly, passed away earlier this year. Pope John Paul II became Pontiff in 1978 (I was still too young to understand who the Pope is), and for all of my early life, he remained Pope until he died in 2005.

With that in mind, watching The Crown got me thinking about how Queen Elizabeth II is the last remaining constant in my life. I’m sure there are some minor things I may be overlooking, but when it comes to people of significance, QE2 is the remaining standard. For the entirety of my years, Elizabeth II has been Queen of England. That fact is still amazing to me when I think about it. More amazingly, however, is how it applies to nearly everyone I know. There are few people with whom I interact regularly that were born before June 2, 1953, so a huge shout out to my mother-in-law right now!!

But in all seriousness, there’s a sense of depth and gravity when you stop and ponder the tenure of the Queen. We live in an America where change is constant and the next thing is the best thing. And even though the United Kingdom has a Prime Minister (there have been fourteen to serve under the Queen), Elizabeth II has been a life-long given for so many of us. It’s almost nostalgic to think of that type of longevity, yet she remains a modern woman driving herself to and fro.

Image via Hello Magazine.
Image via Hello Magazine.


I don’t mind change. I actually kinda like it. There’s an excitement that comes with the newness of something, be it a house, a car, a job. In many ways, change keeps us challenged, on our toes, needing to be responsive and adaptive. But there is a deep sense of comfort and security that comes with consistency, knowing that something will always be there, knowing that special someone will always be there.

That’s how I feel about my relationship with God. In the whirlwind and occasional chaos that comes with change, I know I am secure in Him. No matter how turbulent the world may seem in my personal life, I am comforted in the knowledge that I am anchored to the resurrection of His son Jesus Christ. Sitting on my sofa, in the comfort of my house, watching a streaming service on my flat-screen TV, I am thankful for what feels like the never-ending blessings He has chosen to give me.

And when it comes to the Crown, His is the only one that really matters.

Um……No

Um……No

January 18, 2015.

That was the day Lee, myself, and the rest of the team from Relevant Church in Tampa embarked on our first-ever mission trip. We traveled to the Dominican Republic and lived so much in the short time we were there. It was life-changing for Lee and me in more ways than one.

The trip was made possible by coordination with SCORE, International. SCORE is a mission organization that uses sports, primarily baseball, to minister and kingdom-build around the world. They partner with churches, schools, athletic teams, and others through short-term mission trips to make a difference in the lives of individuals and communities.

My time with Relevant Church and my experience with SCORE (I participated in nine domestic and international trips in just under three years) is the foundation of my heart for ministry. God used that experience to prepare Lee and me to move to the Dominican Republic as full-time missionaries.

Although that experience ended prematurely, I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t think about the children and staff family we left in Samaná or the wonderful things we were able to accomplish in the short time we were there.

So when Lee told me about a mission trip with SCORE to Honduras to help with disaster relief following Eta, my curiosity was peaked. I have the time, the financial commitment is manageable, and the idea of getting dirty for Jesus is always exciting to me.

I reached out to my friend at SCORE – Lee and I served with him on one of our trips to Cuba – and he gave me all the details. It was simple: pay for the trip, book a flight, and let’s go.

Turns out it wasn’t so simple.

I’ve never seen this before. Flights to Honduras were all in the four-figure range. When I realized the least expensive flight is $1700 (with two connections, BTW), I chuckled to myself, “Perhaps God just doesn’t want me to go.” But I persisted and tried other search sites and varying combinations of departure cities – Am I REALLY willing to drive back to Miami just to make this trip work? –  but to no avail. The flight component was just cost-prohibitive.

I stepped away from my laptop, took my dog for a walk, and had a conversation with God. “If it’s your will, God, it’s your bill.” My pastor in Tampa taught me that one.

I came back and jumped into flight searches again. But before the page for Kayak could load, I saw a news alert about ANOTHER storm in the Caribbean, this one heading to Central America again! The forecast for the storm has it over Honduras on the day before we would arrive in Tegucigalpa.

“You’re not going on this trip!”

God’s voice was loud and clear. This was no whisper. It was an emphatic ‘No!’


Given the new chapter in my life right now, I really wanted this trip to happen. I really wanted it to work out. But I know there is providence in the fact it didn’t, and perhaps God is protecting me by keeping me at home.

In my experience with mission work, I liked to say there are people who serve as boots on the ground and there are people who provide the financial resources for the people who are boots on the ground. God may be telling me to sit this one out, but He is also reminding me of the blessing and provision He’s provided in our lives. We are going to support our friends at SCORE and their relief efforts in Honduras. If you’re inclined to do so, I invite you to do the same.

But it doesn’t have to be SCORE and it doesn’t have to be Honduras. Find a cause that speaks to your heart and let your feelings of thanksgiving manifest in the form of your generosity. It’s by giving and living generously that we give back to God and emphatically say ‘Yes’ to Him.

Pick!

Pick!

From a recent conversation with a friend. 

“Hey, man. You look good.”

“Thanks, dude.”

“I mean it. You look …. at peace.”


There can be some anxiety that comes with decision making. Just the idea of having to make a decision is enough to trigger anxious feelings in people.

I have an interesting perspective on decision making, one that is not rooted in science or statistics, and one that you should definitely not take seriously. There’s an old anecdotal quote that is attributed to Abraham Lincoln. “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spend six hours sharpening my axe.”

When it comes to making a big decision, I want all the data. I want all the analysis. I want to spend six hours sharpening the axe by going over ‘what-if’ scenarios. I am horrible at chess, but I totally get the need to look five, six, seven moves ahead and strategize the long game.

I want to prepare, pray, pause, and then push forward with the decision.

Yet regardless of the effort, the end result of the decision – whether it was right or wrong, prudent or foolish, advantageous or disastrous – is pretty binary. It will have either been a good decision or not.

Fifty-fifty. Flip a coin. Prepare all you want, but it either will or it won’t.

I had a big decision to make recently. Drastic is not the right word, but it was definitely impactful to my current state of life. There was a lot to weigh in the decision, but being on this side of it, it didn’t feel like a weighty decision. There was a lot to process both going into the decision and as a result, but the conclusion has felt rather simple by comparison.

There was definitely a lot of prayer in all of this. I feel blessed Lee and I were able to learn from our experiences as missionaries in the Dominican Republic and apply those lessons to this process. First and foremost, take it to God. It’s been my experience that it is highly ineffective to try and figure things out on my own. By being intentional in my prayers to and conversations with God, I’ve been able to find clarity. Surrendering your burdens to Him is proverbially sharpening your axe for six hours.

Secondly, conversation was critical. Starting with my wife – my partner and sounding board and confidant – I was able to just talk through the pros and cons of the decision. How would it impact me? How would it impact us? How do we see the short-term playing out? What do we want our long-term to be? In putting the pieces on the board and playing out different variations of moves, we were able to narrow it down to what we felt was the best thing to do.


The decision was made, and although there is a world of unknowns ahead, I am at peace with what I’ve decided to do. Even more so when I feel my Heavenly Father continues to send me God winks along the way. The little signs are subtle reassurances that by having trusted in Him, I can trust in whatever comes next. Instead of stress and anxiety, I can wade in the calm and even perhaps feel a little giddiness and excitement.

“I mean it. You look …. at peace.”

On The Surface

On The Surface

“It’s all good.”

All too often that phrase is espoused as a posture to deflect or avoid conflict. Rather than confront conflict and manage it, the passive route is taken because it is the easiest one to take.


I was raised a cradle Catholic. Born into a Catholic family, I was baptized at the age of one and I attended Catholic school from K-12. In the span of that time, I did it all with regards to Catholic traditions. Alter boy, lector, eucharistic minister; I was so involved in my faith my aunt was convinced I was on my way to seminary.

Then I went away to college, making the leap from living in a Cuban-American bubble in Miami to the jazzy streets of New Orleans. To say my time at Tulane University was a culture shock is an understatement. To say I made the most of my first experience living away from home would be even more so.

Part of the freedom that came with living on campus and being on my own was deciding for myself if I was going to make an effort to attend Mass on Sunday mornings. When your Saturday nights consist of Bourbon Street, beignets, and beer chasers, there’s not much other than sleep that makes the priority list for Sundays. You could say my first year in New Orleans was like a Will Hoge song. Although I did celebrate my faith on occasion, the consistency and intentionality was nothing compared to what I exercised in high school.

Fast-forward fifteen years. I was recently separated from my wife and trying to do the best I could in a co-parenting situation. My daughter had completed her first communion and now I was sitting through the Parish-mandated parent meeting – again – in preparation for my son’s sacramental experience. The person conducting the training/meeting told a story about how she recently had an argument with her husband, she realized she was in the wrong, and when she went to bed that night, she kept her back to her husband in order to, “save face.”

Save face.

It was as if a switch had been flipped in my head. All of a sudden I found myself looking around the room and coming to the realization I didn’t know anyone there. Sure, I had said hello to them in the pews and perhaps greeted them out of obligation at the local Publix, but I didn’t know anyone in that room. I had never invited anyone over for dinner. There was no sense of fellowship with any of the other parents. From my perspective, I was not in community with any of the people at my church.

Wait. What did she say? ‘Save face’?” I replayed that phrase over and over in my head. I tuned out everything else she said and focused on the egregious and theologically flawed idea that the best way to handle conflict with your spouse, especially when you’re at fault, is to not seek reconciliation and basically lie through omission. There we were sitting in the house of God, a God who grants us mercy and forgiveness when we don’t deserve either, and the message being conveyed was, “just pretend it’s all good.”

I left that day and never returned. For me, that was the day I stopped being Catholic.

Three years later I found myself re-married and walking through the doors of a non-denominational Christian church for the first time. It was a first step in finding a way for my wife, who was raised Southern Baptist, and me to celebrate our love of God together. I maintain in all that time I never had a crisis of faith but rather a crisis of church. And it was at that church that I learned it’s not about what I do (salvation through works), but rather what’s been done for me (we are saved by grace through faith).

It was there that my eyes were opened to what being a part of a church community meant. It was there that I learned the importance of participating in my faith and getting involved with the other members of my church. It was there that I truly learned the more we serve, the more we grow in Christ. It was there that I first experienced real, authentic, ugly, gritty, tear-jerking, uncomfortable, thought-provoking, heart-expanding relationships, all of them bookmarked by the love and grace of Christ.

Gone were the facades. Gone were the pretenses. Gone were the ideas that having it all together and ‘saving face’ were things to be celebrated. It wasn’t “all good,” but at the same time, the experiences and new relationships were all so very, very good.


We serve a real God who loves us and wants us to be joy-filled in all we do. Despite our pasts, in light of our flaws, and because of our imperfections, He loves us. And it’s been my experience the more honest we are with ourselves, the more we can really plug into a relationship with Him.

You see, once you accept that God cherishes you just the way you are, there’s no need to make others think you’re something you’re not. Once we pivot from doing things for our benefit to doing things for His glory, then can we say with confidence, “It’s all good.”

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.Galatians 1:10 NLT

 

In The Beginning

In The Beginning

Sunday, March 1, 1987. A fourteen-year-old kid arrives at the Orange Bowl in Miami with his older brother and cousin to see the rock band Genesis. It was his first concert ever. That boy was me.

Music is such an integral part of my life and my love of music was born from the influence of my older cousins. It was they who introduced me to the magic of Billy Joel, Elton John, and Genesis. It was my curious study of their respective album collections that opened my eyes – and ears – to the likes of Peter Frampton, The Who, and David Bowie. And it was on a cool Sunday evening that I stood in the stands of the legendary Orange Bowl with sixty-seven thousand other fans to take in musical talents of Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, and the incomparable Phil Collins.

Phil Collins would become one of my favorite musical performers. His work, both as a solo artist and as the frontman for Genesis, would create a musical baseline for my life that can only be described as comfort food for my ears. The relationship with Collins’ music would only be enhanced given its integration with the show Miami Vice. As a wide-eyed teen enamored with the glamorous portrayal of my hometown on the small screen, it was so cool to hear Phil’s music featured on the show (he had a single from each of his first three albums included in the series).

The impact of music in my life would explode in 2006 when I was introduced to the group of people I affectionately refer to as my music family, and I am always seeking a connection with a song that transcends just melodies and harmonies. Every once in a while, there is a song that resonates lyrically and speaks to my soul. It may be my mood at that moment, it may be the situation I am experiencing, it may be something I am longing or dreaming to do; music has a way of hooking into those emotions and making an indelible mark.

That’s what happened recently when I found myself sorting through old 45 records from my childhood. I’d brought them home with me from Miami following my mother’s passing, and I randomly decided to put on on the record player and give it a listen. I had been praying and pondering about a decision, one that would mean the opening and closing of doors in my life.

And then God spoke to me.

We said goodbye to a dear old friend
And we packed our bags and left feeling sad
It’s the only way
We said hello as we turned the key
A new roof over our heads
Gave a smile
It’s the only way
Only way

Turn your head
And don’t look back
Set your sails for a new horizon
Don’t turn around don’t look down
Oh there’s life across the tracks
And you know it’s really not surprising
It gets better when you get there

I’ve said it before, coincidence is just God showing off. And at this moment, with the nostalgic crackling and hiss of the phonograph in the background, God made His answer to me loud and clear.

When we’re faced with a tough and uncomfortable choice, sometimes all there is to do is listen.