Getting Through With Gratitude

Getting Through With Gratitude

It started with a phone call.

“Christie called. She wanted to tell me about a job opportunity.”

My wife’s tone in telling me about a conversation she had with her former boss was one of pleasant surprise. It was completely unexpected and came at a time when we were weighing our options with regards to leaving our apartment and renting a house.

As it turned out, this new job opportunity for my wife opened the door to us moving into the house we’re now renting. Not only were we able to afford the rent for our current place, but this house also allowed us to have my mother-in-law move in with us once again (we shared a house with her in Tampa for nearly ten years).

This all happened last Fall, with moving day being the day after Thanksgiving. And we’ve been grateful ever since.

As we find ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s never been more apparent to me how God was working back then to position us now to be better safeguarded from this virus. Weeks before the outbreak first began in Wuhan, China, we were dealing with movers and utility companies and sore backs. Months before we had any realization of what the phrase ‘novel coronavirus’ meant, our focus was on furniture and fixtures. But it’s clear to me God’s focus was on us.

“Can you imagine?”

Lee and I ask ourselves that question almost daily. As we manage our day to day during this safer-at-home season, we wonder what it would have been like had we not moved into this house. With my mother-in-law living twenty miles away in Ozark, Alabama, what would we have done if we were still in our apartment? I think we’d have no choice but to have her temporarily move in with us and take residence in our guest bedroom, a room with only a futon no television.

We would most certainly feel as if we were on top of each other, sharing an already crammed kitchen. Lee and I shared an office in that apartment, a situation that would have been nearly impossible to manage with me working from home during this period (Lee’s current position is 100% remote work).

Truth be told, I cannot begin to imagine it.

But the problems in that scenario would be nothing compared to what others are facing today. Single parents on the verge of losing their livelihood because they have to stay home with their children. Children – as detailed in this amazing piece by Udonis Haslem – whose only real meal of the day was provided by their school. Adults who can no longer visit their aging parents in person. Families who continue to grieve the passing of a loved one.

Yes, these times we’re living through suck right now. As optimistic as we want to be about the end of this pandemic, the reality is ‘normalcy’ may still be many months away. There are so many voices, so many opinions, so much disunity as a result of this virus; I am afraid things may never be quite ‘normal’ again.

But one thing is clear. Hope.

Hope in our medical community, hope in our researchers, and, most importantly, hope in our Heavenly Father.

There is a quote from Mark Batterson that I absolutely love and I try to apply every day to my life. “PRAY like it depends on God. WORK like it depends on you.”

God will always deliver according to His timing, but we each have to do our part in the process. I trust in God and have confidence he will get us through this pandemic. I also trust that God gave the medical professionals and experts the intellect to battle this virus and communicate their findings to the rest of us. I trust God gave me the wisdom to practice the mitigation techniques for preventing the spread of the virus. Hand washing, social distancing, wearing a mask; where others see this as a burden or an imposition, I choose to see it as my way of loving my neighbor.

It’s become mentally fatiguing to read about individuals scoffing at the notion of being cautious with this virus. They proudly and defiantly say God will protect them.

Yes, God is capable of anything, and He may very well choose to provide blanket immunity to the virus to select individuals. But the same logic God-fearing individuals apply to buckling up their seat belt when they get in their car is the same logic that applies to adhering to mitigation protocols against the virus.

I’ll take the analogy one step further. In the same way I would secure my children when they were young in their car seat – because I love them and want to make sure they’re protected – I wear a mask in public because I want to make sure my neighbor is protected.

The extent to which I love God is evident in the extent to which I love other people.

I have to do my part to protect myself, protect my family, and protect my neighbor. I do this all the while asking God to bring an end to this time of pain and uncertainty. Trusting God and taking precautions are not mutually exclusive actions.

“PRAY like it depends on God. WORK like it depends on you.”

This brings me back to the purpose of this post. I firmly believe what will get us through this crisis is gratitude. I know it sounds counter-intuitive. With people losing their jobs, their sanity, and even their lives, how or why would they/we be thankful?

Since the beginning of this pandemic, there’s been a part of me that’s felt if I could be so bold as to try to understand God’s will in all of this, perhaps it is to make us shift our focus onto Him. In every year and across every generation, it’s been so easy to point to something in particular and say, “this is because we’ve lost sight of God.” To be honest, it’s an over-used and conveniently overplayed trope in our national conversation. Still, in this election year where the dissonance between ‘both sides’ has simply grown bigger and wider, it makes sense to me that God is using this as a proverbial slap in the face to wake us up.

 

 

In taking a macro view of this pandemic, I am humbled by what I see as blessing upon blessing upon blessing. No matter how I’ve been impacted, no matter how I’ve been inconvenienced, the fact I am not mourning the death of a family member is a blessing from God. Of the over 77,000 deaths in the United States, those have all occurred to ‘other people’. That was the case until this week when I was notified my father’s close friend from New York passed away. Patsy’s death was a result of complications arising from COVID-19, and it’s the first virus-related death of someone I knew personally.

I can’t begin to imagine what Patsy’s family is going through. I can’t begin to imagine what the families of the over quarter-million people worldwide who’ve succumbed to this disease are going through. I am thankful I don’t have to, and I am praying – and working – fervently to ensure I don’t have to.

I want to be close to God always. But especially in these times, I want to be close to Him. I need to be close to Him.  And I think Tara-Leigh Cobble says it best in her The Bible Recap podcast. “Remembering God is directly connected to our gratitude and thanksgiving. When we express gratitude to God, it knits our hearts to Him and it prompts us to be much more likely to walk closely with Him.”

Repent, all of you who forget me,

    or I will tear you apart,

    and no one will help you.

But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me.

    If you keep to my path,

    I will reveal to you the salvation of God.

Psalm 50:22-23 NLT

All For Me

All For Me

God is found everywhere, but I know that I really feel and appreciate Him more in those random, serendipitous moments of life. You know, those times when God gives you a wink as if to say, “Here, this is .. All for You.”

After becoming part of the Sister Hazel music community (aka Hazelnuts) back in 2006, Lee and I made the music of Sister Hazel part of the foundation of our relationship. If you trace back all the dominoes that fell that directed us to where we are today – including our renewed faith walk together and moving to the Dominican Republic – all those footsteps of fate lead back to Sister Hazel and everyone we met that summer of 2006. I look back at the last fifteen years of my life, at all those moments in which I was able to .. Hold On .. and I think, “All because two guys in Gainesville decided to start a band.”

God is in the details, and there are so many detailed little memories that make up my story, Lee’s story, and our story; memories that extend from the collection of friends we hold near and dear to our heart, all of whom we met because of music. All because of the friendships that .. Effortlessly .. fell into place.

I just drove back from Florida, a trip in which I got to share time with my two best friends (#MyTwoJeffs), and sandwiched in between that was taking in another Hazel show at the House of Blues. Truth Is .. it felt great to be in those familiar confines, and as I drove back to Alabama, I wondered when we’d be able to see Hazel again. Since that first show in 2005, Lee and I had seen them at least once every year.

Then 2018 happened, and even though we wouldn’t change our mission experience for the world, I have to admit it was a massive departure from the norm. And in that departure was going almost 18 months without seeing our favorite band. It was all very .. Surreal.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I hopped on Facebook this morning and saw SH is playing a show right here in Dothan!

I don’t think I’ve stopped grinning. To say it makes me .. Happy .. is an understatement.

And now I’ll look at the calendar with giddy anticipation for November to .. Come Around .. so Lee and I can not only be in the crowd one more time but also so we can share that experience with the wonderful friends we’ve made since moving to Dothan.

There’s so much in my life for which I am thankful, and I honestly feel my life as of late has been blessing upon blessing. And now, having the date for this concert on my calendar really is a .. Beautiful Thing.

It’s About Options

It’s About Options

God is love (1 Peter 4:8) and love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4), so when we approach others, especially individuals who are not yet Christ-followers, we must do so with the patience, love, and grace our Heavenly Father grants us each day.

Recently in our small group, someone shared the story of how at work they include small devotionals (Bible verses) in the paychecks for their employees. This is such a great and impactful gesture to do as a business owner or manager because it expresses to the worker a personalized sense of both concern and gratitude for their contribution to the company’s success. I have so many amazing memories from my time in the Dominican Republic, and one that stands out is the delight we experienced when we included a hand-written note of appreciation in the paychecks of our staff members. To me, it was a novel exercise, but to our team, it was a heartfelt moment that lifted them up both as a collection of peers and as individuals.

My friend from our small group continued with his story about how they had just hired an employee who is Muslim. Given their practice of including devotionals with paychecks, he and his management team did not want to simply assume the new team member would be okay with this. Neither did they want to unilaterally exclude him from the practice. So my friend took it upon himself to have a conversation with this new employee and just ask; ask if it would be okay to include verses from the Christian Bible in his paycheck. He asked if he would be bothered or offended by the practice. My friend showed a genuine concern for his employee, granting him the option to participate (or not) in this company’s practice.

Some segments of our country would hold this up as succumbing to political correctness, and this story would be shared with a certain amount of disdain. Rather, I think it’s the perfect example of evangelism, reflecting God’s love, tenderness, and concern for our well-being. A relationship with Christ is something into which we’re invited, made possible first and foremost by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but also by those who came before us and evangelized the good news of Jesus’ gospel to us. It takes a follower to create a follower, and the great commission commands us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20). Sometimes that ‘go’ is as simple as going and asking someone if it’s okay with them to receive a sprinkle of God’s love in their paychecks.

As an aside, another member of our group applauded the gesture, noting how much better our nation would be if everyone would apply a gentle approach to sharing their faith and discussing their differences.

Evangelism is not about Bible-thumping. Evangelism is not about the cliché combination of megaphones, sandwich boards, and vitriolic condemnation. Evangelism is loving a stranger and extending an invitation to something new, an invitation that starts with transformation and leads to eternal salvation. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. And it’s a choice I pray every human being is given the option to make.

It’s About Caring

It’s About Caring

I was speaking last night to another member of my church small group and we were discussing how we do not like shopping at a particular supermarket. It had nothing to do with the prices or product selection, but rather with the lack of care displayed by the employees of the store. As she was describing her experience, I nodded my head in understanding and told her I will always pay more if it means receiving the level of service I desire.

It’s amazing how much caring makes a difference.

My wife and I have been struggling to find employment, and the hardest part has been the empty void into which our applications seem to disappear. On occassion one of us will receive a notification saying the application is being reviewed, but then the waiting continues and frustration simply mounts.

This morning, however, I received an email from Johnson & Johnson. It was in response to an application I submitted yesterday. Yes …. YESTERDAY! As in, “J&J replied to my application within 24 hours!” Take that, empty void!

It was a rejection letter – to be honest, I knew I did not meet Johnson & Johnson’s requirements – but it was a letter crafted on a foundation of gratitude and empathy. Sure, perhaps J&J have the ability to automate responses. I would assume they receive thousands of applications on a daily basis. Still, someone at some point took the time to ensure a process is in place to respond to all applicants. And the genesis of that decision making is a genuine concern for the human being who submitted the application.

Johnson & Johnson cares about the individuals seeking employment in their organization. If you read their Credo, you’ll know they care about a whole lot more, too. In reading their email this morning, I honestly felt they cared about me.

We appreciate your interest in joining Johnson & Johnson. When you submit your application to us, we look for certain minimum requirements essential for the role. Though your achievements are impressive, they didn’t exactly line up with what we’re looking for in this particular job. For example, you may not have met the required years of experience, education or other minimum requirements.

We understand that being rejected is always disappointing no matter how far along you’ve made it in the process. But, don’t let it hold you back. Your relationship with Johnson & Johnson doesn’t end here and there are some things you can do to open yourself up to other possibilities: ….

We wish you the best of luck as you continue your search and we hope that this won’t be the last time we cross paths.

Who wouldn’t want to work for a company like this?

And now all I keep thinking about is how this sense of compassion aligns with my personal belief system. Compassion is such an undervalued sentiment in our fast-paced, instant gratification world. As a Christ follower, I firmly believe compassion is the currency with which we should transact every interaction.

In the NASB version of the Bible, the word compassion appears 92 times. Matthew uses it seven times in his gospel, often to refer to the emotion Jesus felt for the people to whom he was teaching.

Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.Matthew 9:6

When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.Matthew 14:14

And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.”Matthew 15:32

Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.Matthew 20:34

To paraphrase Andy Stanley, other people should be important to you because they are important to God. And when times are tough, make the time to give your empathy and express your compassion to those who really need it. Show them you care, because it may be the very thing they need in that moment.

I really think this quote from Brene Brown best illustrates the importance of compassion.

Finding Home

In July 2015, my wife Lee traveled to Eutaw, Alabama, to serve on a domestic mission trip. On her way to Eutaw, she stopped in her hometown of Dothan to share some time with family. Her cousin Kathy invited Lee to join her and her husband at church, and with that Lee was introduced to Wiregrass Church.

Fast forward three and a half years and one heartbreaking missionary stint in the Dominican Republic; Lee and I found ourselves settling into a new life in Dothan, Alabama, and starting over. While in the D.R., however, I had spent many hours listening to Andy Stanley and his sermons via his Your Move podcast. I became captivated not only by Andy’s communication style, but also by his consistent message of keeping Christ first in your life. I knew this is what I wanted in my life in terms of continued spiritual growth.

Having remembered her previous experience at Wiregrass and that Wiregrass is a partner Andy Stanley’s North Point Church in Atlanta, Lee suggested we begin attending Wiregrass Church. The first service we attended was December 23, and from the very beginning we felt invited, loved, and accepted. We met briefly with Pastor Adam Roberson, which led to a follow-up meeting about Lee and me getting plugged into serving at Wiregrass by leading a small group.

We’ve been attending Wiregrass Church for two months now and it’s been absolutely amazing. It feels great to have a church home in which we can reset and continue to process our experiences – both good and bad – from the mission field. It’s a blessing to have a community of believers with whom we can connect, grow, and lean on. By directing us to Wiregrass Church, God resolved my worries and anxieties about starting this new chapter of my life.

God is faithful and wonderful, and I believe He has great things planned for Lee and me. And I believe those plans all start with us diving into worship, fellowship, and community at Wiregrass.

Meet Me On the Mountain – Jill Briscoe

Meet Me On the Mountain – Jill Briscoe

My wife Lee participated this past weekend listening to the presenters of the 2019 IF:Gathering. I happened to come into the room as Jill Briscoe was presenting.

Jill shared this amazing poem, and I simply felt compelled to share it with others. It’s such a beautiful reminder of our need to give all of of heart to Jesus.

You can find the original posting of this poem on the Telling the Truth website.


Meet Me On the Mountain by Jill Briscoe

Have you met Him at the lakeside
   Did you hear His still, small voice?
Did He call you there to follow Him,
   And said, “You have a choice”?
And did half of you say, “Yes, Lord,”
   And have half a mind to start?
Did you think He didn’t notice
   When you gave Him half your heart?

He saw it on the day
   He met disciples on the mount;
And gave them all another chance
   to make their whole lives count.
Some said that day, “What comes
   my way, Oh, Lord, I’ll do my part,
Dear Lord, I’ll be obedient
   and give you all my heart!”

I’ll love for you and speak for truth
   and tell the Gospel story
I’ll live from this day forward
   to give you all the glory.
Where e’er you send me—use me send me—
   I will speak for you,
Help me glorify your name—be with me—
   see me through!

So as we leave the mountain top
   Will you go for Him or stay?
Continue on half-heartedly
   or give it all away?
Will you yield yourself from this day on
   Receive the Spirit’s call?
Say Jesus, “I give all to you,
   Not half my heart—MY ALL!”

Starting Over

Starting Over

We are not designed to do life alone.

In the years since I first began attending Relevant Church in Tampa in 2009, this is one lesson I’ve learned in earnest. A large part of my growth as a Christ follower has been a result of sharing my journey with others. Volunteering, taking part in small groups, serving on mission trips; the fellowship I’ve shared with others and the time I’ve invested for others has brought me closer to Jesus in ways I didn’t know were possible.

Being a part of my church community gave me the desire to learn more about God. It was during a small group back in 2013 I came to the realization I was being called into ministry. Having the support of my faith family gave me the strength to press through the notification of being laid off after twenty-one years with my previous employer. Being surrounded by individuals with whom I’ve laughed, shared, cried, and prayed gave me the courage to step out in faith and move into the mission field.

The journey to the Dominican Republic was both exciting and eye-opening. My wife Lee and I learned a lot and grew a lot. Unfortunately, the experience came to end after only five months of being in the D.R. We came back home with heartache and longing, as well as a lot of uncertainty as to what the next chapter in our lives look like.

We had to start over. New city. New surroundings. New situation.

Same steadfast, faithful, loving God.

Upon prayerful reflection and a time of discernment, Lee and I decided to make Dothan home. God answered our prayers by directing us to Wiregrass Church and giving us the opportunity to plug into this new church home. Additionally, we are blessed to have the privilege of leading a small group. Fittingly, the topic of the group is Starting Over, and we will be diving into Andy Stanley’s four-part sermon series of the same name.

Lee and I have been attending Wiregrass since just before Christmas, and it’s safe to say we know all of five people at the church. Still, we’re confident this experience will introduce us to new individuals we hope to learn from and lean on as much as we also hope to direct and steer the conversations and discussions in our small group. By no means do Lee and I feel we have all the answers, and it’s our prayer that in community and fellowship with the other participants, God will bless us with some insight as to what our next steps look like.

If you’re in the Wiregrass area and you feel you’d like someone to stand by you as you go through your Starting Over moment, I invite you to prayerfully consider joining our small group. We will meet on Sunday’s at 11:00 AM at Wiregrass Church, and you can conveniently sign up online by clicking here.

We hope to meet you soon.

Write It On Your Heart

Write It On Your Heart

In 2017 I had the privilege of attending a Catalyst conference at which the keynote speakers were pastors Craig Groeschel and Andy Stanley. As they wrapped up the conference, Andy Stanley said something that has stuck with me ever since.

“Do not criticize that which you do not understand.”

Those instructions resonated with me having grown up in a household that, although was full of love, was also full of criticism towards others. With both my parents, decisions and situations were very binary (i.e. black or white), and there was never much consideration given to the nuance of a particular issue (i.e. the gray area in which we all live and operate).

I am sad to say that worldview dominated my way of thinking in my young adult life, and it was such a huge hurdle to overcome. To this day, I struggle with reverting back to that mentality, but I thank God for surrounding me with women and men of faith who, when it comes to this particular personality tick, help keep me focused on the nuance and not the binary.

So as I watched the video below about Billy Joe White, an artist in Ohio who covers up racist tattoos for free, I felt myself want to be judgemental towards the people who had the offensive ink and were now looking to have it hidden. The video does an excellent job in allowing the individuals to explain what compelled them to get those tattoos, and it steers our attention to where it should be; not on a decision in the past that propagated the rhetoric of hate, but rather on actions in the present that are rooted in love.

“Do not criticize that which you do not understand.”

The video is not about people who were/are racist. The video is about a man seeking to make a difference in a culture where racism and hate are prevalent. He does this not to bring attention to himself, but rather to help bring healing and renewal to others. The lesson here is one of extending grace.

In his book Irresistible, Andy Stanley writes:

For John, Paul, and Jesus, loving people is loving God. Not because people are God, but because they are loved by God. Refusing to actively love a brother or sister is paramount to refusing to love God. Under the new covenant, we do not love God and love our neighbors. Under the new covenant, we love God by loving our neighbors.

I pray the next time I feel myself leaning toward that old habit of judging and dismissing, I remember that as a follower of Christ I am commanded to love my neighbor, without exception and without conditions. It is a commandment we should all have tattooed onto our hearts.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.1 John 4:20-21 (NIV)

A Cycle of Thanksgiving

A Cycle of Thanksgiving

When Lee and I were in the Dominican Republic, doing laundry was a bit of an event. Not only did we have to wake up early to ensure we got at least one load done before the daily brown-out would occur (the electric company would shut off power to the area daily, usually around 10:00 o’clock ), we also had to make sure the forecast called for no rain. It was a blessing having a washing machine at our apartment complex, something about which we were reminded every time we saw people washing their clothes by hand down at the creek. Having clotheslines on which to hang our laundry was also a blessing but did make for quite a challenge for a first-worlder like me still working to acclimate to the environment.

Now that we are back in the States, Lee and I have a heightened sense of gratitude for the little things we took for granted before we left. Screens on windows, potable water from the faucet, the ability to flush toilet paper (that’s another blog for another day); all these things about which we didn’t think twice before we moved to Samaná are things we see now with a new sense of appreciation and thankfulness.

As I awoke this morning and got myself ready to kick off my day, I looked at the pile of dirty laundry in the hamper. I actually had to take a moment to counter-argue the initial thought in my head of, “It’s overcast today. I guess laundry will have to wait.” Then I remembered the AirBNB in which we’re staying has a washer AND a dryer!! And it’s not like we haven’t already done laundry since we’ve been here. We have. But given it’s only been a month since we’ve been back, there is still some re-acclimating we’re going through.

I miss our life in the D.R. I miss the children we served and the team we had that made it possible to serve. I miss the views from our apartment and our land-lady who was a proxy mom for me while I was there. Still, I am grateful for the opportunity to have gone and for the experience we had, just as I am grateful to be back home with family and for the next opportunity God has in store for us.

And I am grateful for the freshly washed (and dried) laundry I have this morning. Yay God!

 

2018 – What a Year

2018 – What a Year

This is where I start.

Screenshot_20181226-094009

A year ago today was my last full day of work with Verizon. After twenty-one years with the company, God had decided it was time for me to go in a new direction. And what a completely different direction it was!

In quick summary, we made the decision to go into the mission field, helped my mother-in-law move from our house to her new place in Alabama, visited the children’s home we’d be serving, got our house ready to be listed for sale, got rid of the last of our furniture, moved to Georgia, I almost died (slight hyperbole), I completed a solo site visit to the D.R., we finally sold our house, we spent most of June saying goodbye to everyone, and we moved to the D.R. in July. (A recap of our first two months in D.R. can be found here.)

2018 also saw me be ordained by my home church (Relevant Church) in Tampa, and had me mourning the passing of my aunt in Miami and my uncle in Puebla, Mexico. Lee and I were also blessed to be able to come home in September for her nephew’s wedding and to catch up with family and friends.

But then things went proverbially sideways with our mission life in the D.R., and after much soul-searching and wrestling with God, we made the decision to resign and come home.

It was four weeks ago today we boarded a flight to come back to the States. It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least, since we’ve returned. Reconnecting with family and friends has been good for our souls, and there is the deilghtful, romantic notion of living like gypsies, bouncing among AirBNB’s and guest rooms at friends’ homes. But my heart still hurts from experiencing a dream die and having to say goodbye to so many people that I came to love so much.

I keep mentioning in conversations with others that Lee and I failed as missionaries. Even though we did a lot of good work in the five brief months we lived in Samaná, the fact we are no longer there is, in my opinion, indicative of the fact we did not succeed in realizing our dream. Yet I know we can only grow from this experience and use what we’ve learned to do bigger and better things in the next chapter of our lives. I am very much leaning on the wise words of Ray Dalio:

Having stepped out in obedience by selling everything and going into the mission field has us now in a very unique place to be very flexible for whatever – and wherever – God has in store for us. We don’t know what that is. Lee and I are praying an opportunity in ministry will present itself, but as of right now we remain proverbially homeless and unemployed.

Still, we know God will provide as He did through every day and every event of this past year. We are not worried. We are not panicked. We are confident because we worship a faithful and loving God. And as I mentioned in the closing of my Facebook post from last year: God is Great!

“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.”Romans 12:12 NLT