I was near my former elementary school this afternoon, and I was surprised to learn the Alapattah neighborhood of Miami is home to Little Santo Domingo. Miami has been a melting pot of Latin culture for over half a century, but I was not aware of exactly how pronounced of a Dominican community it possesses. Perhaps this is yet another wink from God to reinforce our call to serve.
The house in which I grew up in Miami was built in 1934. Cinder block construction with a flat roof. It’s the foundation of all my childhood memories, and so much “life” was experienced within its four walls.
This house is now old and decrepit, unfit to function as anyone’s abode, and should most likely be condemned and torn down. It’s cross beams under the floor have sunk and patches of the roof have caved in.
Yet despite its condition, there was still a good amount of stuff in several of the rooms. Most were old, wooden dressers and night tables, all mostly hollowed out by termites. But some boxes and containers had items – mostly from my dad who passed away in 2004 – that can be donated, repurposed, or kept for their sentimental value. So I spent my day clearing out a bunch of
sh crap and loading it onto a pickup to take to the dump.
The primary purpose of clearing out that house is to – hopefully – get my mom in the mindset to begin clearing out her house. My mother lives on the same lot as where my childhood home is, but it’s in the back in what used to be (at a time) a guest house. To say her house is cluttered is an understatement. To say she has a borderline hoarding problem is not an exaggeration.
I’ve watched my fair share of Hoarders and on more than one occasion (like every show) I’ve had the impulse to say, “that could be my mom.” And I don’t mean it in a bad or evil way. I simply recognize the tendency to keep useless stuff. It’s a behavior I see in myself as well, and one that is at the forefront of my personal life given that I will be moving soon.
My goal is to get rid of the junk (e.g. encyclopedias from 1979), make her living space more open and safe, and prevent her from being in a situation where she trips over a collection of TV Guides from the 80’s and ends up breaking a hip.
I hate to see my mom living the way she is, but it’s her life and it’s her choice to do so. There is also a world of truth to the fact you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The fact we had only one shouting match today is a victory in my eyes. I don’t think I will be so lucky on Tuesday as I invade her space.
Overall, however, this experience further strengthens the lessons of these past several weeks: don’t let yourself get caught up in stuff. Life is not measured by the number of porcelain dolls or VHS tapes you may have (yes, my mom still has a ridiculous amount of VHS tapes). Rather, life in the memories we make and the experiences we share. Having stuff is nice, but at the end of the day, it’ll just be stuff someone else will have to throw or give away.
I drove to Miami today to help my mom with some project work around her house. Upon arrival, she and I were both hungry, so we decided to go grab a bite to eat. The typical, “Where would you like to go?” conversation ensued, but rather than play coy, I made the decision to go to a sports bar not too far from my mom’s house.
To properly understand the context, in the blue-collar part of Miami where my mom lives, the restaurant choices are limited to either fast food or Latin food/cafeteria-style eateries. This is not like suburbia with a Chili’s, Friday’s, and Applebee’s on every corner. So the idea of going to a place where the servers spoke English and the game would be on was appealing to me.
The game I reference was the NFC divisional playoff match between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings. We arrived at the restaurant with about three minutes to go in the third quarter, and my mom surprisingly took an interest in the game. Perhaps it was the apple cider she ordered (which was even more surprising) or the energy of the crowd in the restaurant (how is it there are so many Vikings fans in Miami?). Whatever the case, I found myself discussing and explaining the game to my mom.
I told her about the circumstances of challenging a play and why a coach would choose to have a play reviewed. We discussed the strategies of using and not using timeouts. And if you watched the game, then you know how the lead changed several times in the last ten minutes. When the Saints kicked the go-ahead field goal with twenty-nine seconds left, I was fairly certain they’d hold on and win the game.
Because of the relative rowdiness of the crowd, coupled with the fact my mom needs assistance from a cane to walk, I thought it best to leave following the Saints’ apparent game-winning field goal. It took us a while to walk to the car, and I used that time to pull up the game on my phone. Thanks to the 3-minute delay between live and NFL mobile, I didn’t miss a thing.
The Vikings received the ball with less than thirty seconds remaining and one timeout. I explained the situation to my mom, and we both sat in the car as we watched the final plays of the game. With ten seconds left and no timeouts, the Vikings needed a desperation play to get them into field goal range and preserve at least one second for a long field goal attempt. My mom quipped, “What can they do in ten seconds?” The answer to her question came in the form of one of the most amazing, miraculous, and to-be-talked-about plays in NFL playoff history.
In a couple of months, my wife and I will be living in a foreign country. My ability to share time with my mom will be severely limited. I will most likely never replicate this type of moment with her ever again. I can honestly say this will be a memory I cherish forever, and it was one that was expertly appointed by the Holy Spirit.
Today was a busy day.
Last night, Lee’s sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and his fiancé made the drive from Dothan, Alabama, to our house. They wanted to be here early in the morning so we could get started on packing up Patsy’s belongings into a truck and then make the six-hour drive back to ‘Bama. We spent the morning moving boxes, loading furniture, and getting creative with how best to fill the sixteen-foot Penske truck. My hat’s off to Lee’s nephew Hunter who Tetris’d the inside of that vehicle and made it all fit.
We said our goodbye’s at noon and off they went.
After a brief rest, Lee and I went out for a bite. As we sat at the restaurant exhausted, and while recapping the managed chaos that was the morning, the reality of the situation seemed to hit us both at the same time.
“I can’t believe we got it all to fit.”
“Mostly all of it.”
“True, but at least all the essentials are in the truck.”
*pregnant pause as we looked each other in the eyes*
“There’s no turning back now.”
And there it was, like a ton of bricks on our table. We knew for a month this day would come. We’d been discussing Patsy’s move for several years. Yet it felt almost surreal to be in the conscious understanding of the situation and having a, “Wow! This really happened,” moment.
As I mentioned yesterday, having my mother-in-law live with us was actually quite great. And although we were sad she was gone, the more pressing feeling at that moment was how we’d passed a proverbial point of no return. It was a tangible feeling of commitment to our call to move into full-time mission work.
Whether or not the opportunity in the Dominican Republic works out (we are very confident it will), the fact remains there’s no deviating from our plan to sell the house. Our next step is in ministry, and our next step does not involve our current home.
Yes, it can be a bit intimidating. If you let it, the anxiety can be overwhelming. But Lee and I have been operating from a place of obedience since we prayerfully decided to heed God’s call and go. And acting out of obedience means placing our full faith in God.
Coincidentally, we came across an ad for MyIntent.org, a site from which you can order bracelets and other items with your special, intentional word. For me, that word is Surrender. For Lee, her word is Brave. I think both words perfectly summarize our situation. We have the courage to move into the unknown because we surrender our fears to God.
Why would we ever want to turn back from that?
“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT
In many ways, I feel my life story is littered with outlier moments. I was one of the 6% of graduates from my high school who left the confines of Dade County to go to college. Post-divorce, I was able to maintain a great, co-parenting relationship with my ex-wife. And for the past ten years, I’ve shared my household with my mother-in-law … and it’s been great.
I know what you’re thinking: it could not have been all sunshine and rainbows over the last decade with my wife’s mother living under our roof. In all fairness, there were pockets of time when it wasn’t. But overall – for the vast majority of the time – having Patsy live with us was a blessing.
From the small things, like when Lee and I traveled together and we had a built-in pet sitter, to the more complex aspect of watching Lee and her mom make up for lost time due to a staggered past in their lives; being able to have a greater family unit in our house was great.
There were times when Patsy took it upon herself to make dinner for the both of us, and it was rewarding to have the ability to return the favor either using our grill or using our phone (who doesn’t like take-out?). We were never without coffee creamer because Patsy would always pick up some CoffeeMate when we were running low. And our pantry was always full thanks to her almost daily trips to Wal-Mart.
Most importantly, she allowed Lee and me to live our lives and do our marriage without interference. There was never a stereotypical situation with my mother-in-law whereby she would stick her nose in my business and offer incessant opinions and suggestions. On the contrary, it was very rare for Patsy to give us her two-cents about a situation. I value the respect she displayed to her daughter and to me, and in many ways that space allowed my marriage with Lee to grow stronger.
I feel I’ve learned a lot from the time I’ve been able to spend with Patsy, and I hope she feels the same and views her time with Lee and me as a positive experience in her life. I also hope that as God sends us in new, separate directions, she carries with her all the wonderful memories we created and laughter we shared over the years. I will forever carry in my heart the generosity she always showed me, and it’s my prayer I can be a reflection of that generosity with others.
Thank you, Patsy, for allowing us to play this role in your life. I know God will continue to guide and bless you as you move back home. I will miss you greatly.
A year ago today, our little Max entered our lives. He was found in the rain by a friend of ours. At the time, I had no interest in having a dog, but when my wife asked me if we should consider taking him in, I felt an impulse in my gut to say yes. There is no doubt in my mind that impulse was the Holy Spirit telling me to act.
In the year since we’ve had Max, he’s been nothing but a fountain of joy. He’s been a companion for my wife as I traveled on three mission trips without her. He’s been the buddy I needed when my work from home situation became increasingly mundane. He was a source of comfort when our last cat, Dudley, passed away. In short, he’s been a Godsend.