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
I am not one to celebrate birthdays. Although I greatly appreciate the thoughts and well wishes, making a big deal out of my birthday is not my speed.
That being said, I am overwhelmed by the love I’ve received today. I know a lot of people say non-positive things about Facebook (and many times rightfully so), but one of the magic things about that platform is the ability to quickly and easily connect. I am so fortunate to have the collection of family and friends I do, and I was just inundated today with birthday wishes. WOW! is all I can say.
I wrapped up the day by having dinner with my kids. The thought did cross my mind this would be the last birthday in a long time my kids and I will be able to celebrate in person (given Lee and I are moving to the Dominican Republic), but I did not want to dampen the mood, so I kept that thought to myself. Instead, we joked and laughed and just enjoyed the time together.
After dinner, we had dessert at a place called Icesmile that does ice cream rolls. In addition to the tasty treats, one of the schtick features of the restaurant is that people write or draw on post-its and place them all over the wall. It was fun finishing our dessert and then taking a stab at becoming a part of the creative culture of the store.
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.
There’s something healthy and heartwarming about taking time to look back and reflect on the recent moments of our life. As the year draws to a close, I, too, will take part in the unofficial tradition of recapping the year that was. This may be all over the place, so thank you in advance for your patience with my lack of cohesive thinking.
Kicking it Off Lee and I rang in the New Year with our dear friends Jeff and Lindsey. It wasn’t a crazy, NYE bash. It wasn’t a bunch of people reciting resolutions and singing Auld Lang Syne. Instead it was just the four of us, sitting in their lanai, talking about everything, and, as we always do, growing closer in Christ and community. Jeff and Lindsey are one of the couples with which we can openly discuss our faith journey, and they make us stronger because we share the same walk with Christ; four individuals growing closer to Him by sharing in fellowship and family. There was also that part where we shopped to make supply bags for the homeless and took the boat out on January 1st. I also had the opportunity to preach at a special worship service at my church.
The life changer – literally – came in the third week of the month when Lee and I traveled to the Dominican Republic to take part in the first ever mission trip for Relevant Church. The trip was very beta (we didn’t know what we needed to know), but it was eye-opening, informational, and just flat-out awesome. Partnering with SCORE International, we visited several villages in the vast sugar cane fields of Juan Dolio, a home for the elderly, an orphanage, and a house for women rescued from the nightmare of human trafficking.
It was all so amazing, and I wrote about my experiences while on the trip. The take-away, however, was what God would take away from my wife and me. As we returned home, our hearts were broken for Him and His will. Gone were the more material ambitions Lee and I shared for empty-nest life once my youngest graduates high school and goes off to college (2019). We had talked about downsizing and moving into a condo, perhaps in St. Petersburg. Instead, we left the D.R. feeling called to make the mission field the next chapter in our lives.
Lee and I decided to put things in motion to transition from 9-5 as we know it to full time missionaries in mid to late 2019. There was no doubt and no hesitation. We both knew it before we boarded the plane to come home that we’d be back, year after year, training and preparing to making serving others our new vocation.
God’s Take Away
As I mentioned above, God made room in our heart for His calling by taking other ‘stuff’ out of the equation. This was immediately visible to us as we came home from our mission trip and literally boarded a cruise ship the next day for the floating music festival that is The Rock Boat. We love The Rock Boat. Not only is the music amazing, it’s also our chance to connect with friends we get to see only once per year. Our music family is such a big part of our lives, and TRB is the annual family reunion. For Lee and me, TRB XV was our seventh Rock Boat. It was also our last.
From the moment we stepped on the ship, we knew this chapter in our lives was coming to a close. Our bodies were on the Norwegian Pearl, but our hearts were still in the D.R. Instead of thoroughly enjoying the performance by Bare Naked Ladies on the Lido Deck, all I could think of was how for what I paid for the bucket of beer at my feet, I could feed a family of four for a week back in Juan Dolio. For the most part, the entire trip was a reminder of that, – and perhaps it’s not a good idea to get on cruise immediately after a mission trip – but louder than the amazing music was God’s calling that it was time to make more room for Him by saying goodbye to one of things we love so much.
The Rest of January
Yes, there’s more for the month (and thank you for sticking with me this long). Coming back from TRB, we crashed at my friend’s house in Miami for a couple of days. This culminated in a fun Super Bowl party at his house and an impromptu drive to the Florida Keys. Lee had never made the drive to the Keys, and although we didn’t make it all the way down to Key West, the excursion was a new adventure for both of us to share, and we caught an amazing sunset in Key Largo.
In February we took in the State Fair (can you say ‘deep fried everything’?), and were fortunate to attend a fund raiser for John and Katie Zeller (Executive Director of SCORE International and his wife), at which we met the legendary Lou Piniella.
In March we did something completely different and took some time off to attend the 12 Hours of Sebring. Again partnering with our cohorts Jeff and Lindsey, we camped for four days next to the track in an RV, drank way too much beer, and just had a fantastic experience.
April and May saw us celebrate a milestone birthday for our close friend Ashley, another successful home rehab project through our church (be sure to check out the video), and my daughter’s soccer team winning a state title.
In June we we had the wonderful fortune to take my daughter to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It was an amazing trip, and we fell in love with both cities. From museums to aquariums to stadiums and our first every Uber experience, the trip to the Pacific Northwest was once in a lifetime. We took in three World Cup matches, as well as a Seattle Sounders game. We got to see Abby Wambach play in her final World Cup, visited the original Starbucks, and went to the top of the Space Needle. It was an early 16th birthday gift for my daughter, and it created memories that will last a lifetime.
We celebrated the 4th of July on the East coast with Jeff and Lindsey, and our other dear friends Jeff and Ellen, who also share with us the same journey in Christ. Throw into the mix Nikki and David, Daryl and Kristi, a couple of boats, fun time on the water, and an excellent fireworks show, and it was one of the most memorable Independence Day celebrations of recent years. July also saw Lee travel to Eutaw, Alabama, to take part in a domestic mission trip organized by SCORE International.
We wrapped up the year with a couple of concerts, a great Q&A with Kevin Smith at the Improv in Tampa, and a camp experience with our favorite band Sister Hazel. Being able to take part in Camp Hazelnut with so many of our close friends was a great way to kickoff the Fall, and it allowed me to (partially) conquer my fear of heights as I made it to the top of the climbing tower.
I went back to school at Trinity College to pursue a degree in Christian Ministry, and we got to share Christmas services with Jeff and Ellen at both our church and their church. Being with loved ones during the holidays really made the season that much more memorable.
A Painful Passage 2015 was not without its hardships. In addition to her love for music, my wife has an incredible affinity for all things cats. We started the year sharing our household with four fur-babies (as my wife would call them). Unfortunately, we lost three of them in the span of three months, two of them in the same week.
In March we had to put our little Monkey to sleep after she developed a growth in her abdomen. At the beginning of June, after treating him for lethargy and lack of appetite, we had to do the same for our beloved Peppy. This was extremely gut-wrenching given Peppy was Lee’s special Angel-kitty, and he would always comfort her whenever she was not feeling well. Not more than five days after putting Peppy to sleep, we came home from dinner to find Boo in distress and agony (exactly what we wanted to avoid with Peppy). After a trip to the after-hour veterinarian, the only humane option was to put Boo down as well.
Devastating is such an understatement for what we experienced, and I know Lee put on a brave face in the weeks that followed. She battled every day to overcome the feelings of depression as well as the broken heart she was carrying, but I do know the experience brought her closer to God. As we search for answers to the things that make us cry, we inevitably turn to Him with our questions and burdens. The experience was a reminder that God works according to His timetable, our faith in Him does not remove us from the pains of this world, and we’re called to grow in Him when times are tough.
On the human side, we had more doctor’s visits in 2015 than we care to admit. Daniel broke his finger and required surgery and rehab, Natalie sprained the MCL in her right knee and also required rehab, and Lee had surgery to fuse her L5 and S1 vertebrae. Even I, as a result of a sudden (and temporary) loss of hearing in my left ear, required an MRI of my head and several follow-ups.
We blew through our flexible spending account half-way through the year, but the moral of the story is the blessing of having an FSA to begin with, and having the resources in healthcare to tend to our family’s issues as they occurred. The blessing is paying only $25 per office visit as opposed to the alternative. In looking at the bill for my son’s surgery and comparing it to the amount for which we were responsible, I was flabbergasted to think how people go through life without any health insurance.
365 days ago, as I was ready to ring in 2015, I had no idea of how differently my life would be in one, short year. There were several other low and painful moments in the year, as well as tons of super-awesome moments I’ve failed to mention in this recap. Life is like that; ebb and flow, up and down, hot and cold. Yet through it all, the one constant in all our lives is the love God has for us. We meander on earth while He remains steadfast and faithful in Heaven.
In looking back at the tough times, I am able to see the blessings. In reliving the good times, I am able to feel His love for me. In looking ahead at the goals and dreams I pray align with His will, I do so without fear and in the confidence He will provide no matter what.
2015 was filled to the brim with blessings. These blessings, in turn, lead to surrender. Surrender, coupled with obedience and discipline, leads anew to continued blessings from God. And in that cycle is exactly where I want to be heading into 2016.
Thank you for enduring this verbose year-in-review, and I pray you have a joyous, happy, and safe new year. May God’s grace guide you in all you do.
Having a blended family and split household, Christmas for me means calling my ex and checking what time is good for me to pick up the kids. It’s a good arrangement that works out for the both of us given she has the kids on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, while I get to spend most of Christmas day with them.
I pick up my kids and they spend the short drive to my house telling me about all the cool gifts they got. I smile as I listen to their grin-filled stories, all the while hoping they were not given one of the gifts that await them at my house.
Video games, art supplies, gift certificates, and as was the case with my daughter this year, a new Kindle; it’s always a joy to live Christmas through the eyes of my children.
As we get to my house, they both eagerly tear through the gifts that await them, and are both thankful and appreciative for what they’ve received. Inevitably, they look at my wife and me and ask, “What did you get for Christmas?”
It’s at that time that I explain to them the philosophy my wife and I share with regards to Christmas presents. We both feel we live a very blessed life, one that includes being able to do most of what we want to do throughout the year. Concerts, weekend getaways, special events, cruises; if we can manage it, we do it. The same holds true for material items. If I’m itching for a something I want, and it’s not going to put us in a financial bind, I usually go out and get it. For us, we celebrate Christmas 365 days a year.
That being the case, we specifically don’t give each other gifts for Christmas. It’s different and did take some getting used to, but we found through trial and error that we were giving each other gifts out of a feeling of obligation and Christmas ‘requirement’. As such, the gifts we exchanged when we first got together were either not practical or caused so much stress in terms of finding the “perfect” gift. Consequently, we decided to simplify Christmas and agree on no gifts between the two of us.
So as I explained to my kids how I didn’t get anything for Christmas, I thought about it in the context of other things recently going on around me, and how the idea of not getting anything for Christmas is indeed such a blessing.
You see, this Christmas, I did not get news about headaches that are result of a brain tumor that requires surgery. I did not get more chemotherapy in an ongoing battle with cancer. This Christmas, I did not get reminded that I will not be sharing the holidays with a child that has passed away. This Christmas, I also did not get an ongoing dramatic saga with an ex-spouse that refuses to take ownership of her actions and act like a responsible adult. I look into my wife’s eyes and remember how this Christmas I was not giving an ongoing and aching tooth that’s required multiple visits to the dentist.
In the end, I look up to heaven and thank God for all the things He didn’t get me for Christmas. And that is the most blessed and humbling gift of all.