Mission Initiated

Mission Initiated

“It appears God is speaking to us through a big, bright neon sign, and I don’t think we can ignore it.”

Those were words spoken to me by my wife. Those are words that have become the bedrock of what appears to be the next chapter in our lives. Those are the words I hope serve as the foundation for God to one day look me in the eyes and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Oh My, God

THE BACKDROP

Shortly after moving to Tampa in July of 1996, I picked up a job at an internal helpdesk for GTE Data Services. I started out as a consultant (employed by a staffing company), and in August of 1997 I was hired by GTE to work directly for them. In the twenty years since, I’ve seen GTE become Verizon, held varying positions with differing responsibilities, and was able to create new opportunities for myself along the way. In November of this year, my manager informed me my position at Verizon was eliminated.

My first thought was job search. Even though I’d remain on the Verizon payroll through the end of the calendar year, and even though my severance package will provide a cushion that should last through the summer, I knew I had to get my resume in order and start networking. In a nutshell, my skillsets are very transferable but often difficult to quantify. I feel I’m an excellent manager, but how do you illustrate that on a C.V.? I am quite adept at process and project management, but every organization does things a little differently, and the metrics of my Verizon world may not necessarily translate to the world of a new employer (especially if the new employer is not in IT).

I promptly sent an email to my network of friends, family, and coworkers, and it was humbling to receive such supportive responses. I knew wherever I would land the opportunity would present itself as a result of who I know.

THE TRIP

My best friend Jeff is a dentist and has been wanting to do some form of a dental mission trip for as long as I’ve known him. He’d been invited to take part in a mission trip to the Dominican Republic by an acquaintance of his named Mike who started an organization called Advocates of Love (AOL). AOL runs an orphanage in the Samaná province of the D.R., and Mike asked Jeff to join him on his next trip so he could learn about the facility, meet the kids at the orphanage, and see what could be done going forward regarding dental missions.

Having no experience with mission work, Jeff asked if I would accompany him on this trip. I said yes, our mutual friend – also named Jeff – said yes as well, and the three of us coordinated our plans to travel with Mike and Pedro, another member of AOL, to the D.R.

Bright and early on November 30, we boarded our flight for the first leg of the journey to Santo Domingo, and my world has not been the same since.

THE CONVERSATION

Our first leg was from Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale. From there we boarded a flight to Santo Domingo, and I was able to sit next to Mike on that flight. I was eager to pick his brains about how and why he started the organization, the history of the orphanage, and what type of work we could expect to do once we arrived. Mike was more than happy to share his God-appointed story with me, and I was just left speechless at how time and time again God showed up in Mike’s life to make all these things happen.

I explained to Mike my wife and I have been tracking to move into mission work or ministry work full time, but not until after my son graduates from high school in May of 2019. I am very much a planner, and I like having a plan of attack for the next five years of my life.  As I was telling Mike about my plans, I am pretty sure I heard God chuckle.

Me: “So Lee and I would like to be missionaries one day.”

Mike: “That’s interesting because we need a director for our orphanage in Samaná.”

Me: “Did I mention I just got laid off?”

What began as a tongue-in-cheek joke on the plane turned out to be God pressing on my heart and opening a new door for me. Over the next four days, I would spend time loving on kids, painting walls, cleaning up around a construction site, understanding what AOL does for the children and surrounding community, and praying. Lots and lots of praying.

I also spent lots of time on the phone with Lee, at first telling her what I was feeling. The conversations then grew into a discussion of, “I’m willing if you are.” Lee was supportive – actually downright enthusiastic – about the idea of running this orphanage in the D.R. The more she and I discussed it, the more it seemed to all make sense. Then we hit the, “what about…” questions. Through it all, we were blessed to have God reveal to us many answers to our concerns.

THE PATH

Mission work and ministry have been on my heart since Lee and I returned from our first mission trip to the Dominican Republic in January of 2015. As we arrived at the airport in Santo Domingo preparing to return home, we both shared a glance that confirmed to each other we’d be back. As time passed and we became more involved with mission work in our church – Lee and I are currently the mission team coordinators for Relevant Church – we both knew that when the time was right, we’d leave it all to become full-time missionaries.  I even enrolled at Trinity College of Florida to pursue a degree in Christian Ministry. I completed my final class this past October.

What I didn’t know is that God’s will would supersede my plan. Theologically I knew that, but practically I was convinced my plan was a good one if not God ordained. But as the saying goes, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” From the moment I met Lee, I told her my vocation in life was to be the best dad I could be to my kids, and for me, that meant being available to them through high school graduation. June 2019 had become our target date for Gil and Lee 3.0

In all that time and through all the conversations, I ignored God’s nudging and His whispers. I justified such disobedience by pointing back to my plan and resting on the notion of being very comfortable with my job, one that allowed me to work from home and earn six figures. Life was good, and when I was ready, we’d make the move into mission work.

The funny thing is that God makes us move whether we’re ready or not. There is truth to the adage, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” In my case, He removed the barriers I created that, for me, were excuses for not making a move sooner.

“What about my job?”

“Don’t worry. I’m taking that away from you.”

“Okay, but what about this debt I’ve created?”

“Don’t worry. Here’s a severance package to help you with that.”

“But what am I going to do next? I need some form of income, and I don’t have time to fundraise.”

“Don’t worry. This is a salaried position.”

Every question I threw God’s way, He came back with an answer. He came back with the same assertive, almost trash-talking confidence we see in Malachi 3:10.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (NIV)

It’s as if God responded to each of my inquiries with, “Boom! Whatchu got?” To not listen and follow God would make me like the man in the ‘God Will Save Me’ joke.

THE RESOLVE

There’s a song by Imagine Dragons called Whatever It Takes, and this recent experience has me perfectly identifying with the lyrics of that song.

Whip, whip
Run me like a racehorse
Pull me like a ripcord
Break me down and build me up

Over the last month, God has broken me down and built me back up. He’s opened my eyes to what it means to step out in faith and in obedience. He’s made me understand what the meaning of the Abraham story is. I’d never been able to wrap my brain around Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son out of obedience to God, but I get it now. I better understand Elisha’s action of burning his plow when Elijah placed his mantle on him. I see more clearly now what Jesus means in the story of the rich man who was righteous but did not want to part with his possessions.


So loooooooong story short, Lee and I are moving to the D.R. More accurately, we’re praying the AOL board of directors formally approves us to be the next directors of the orphanage in Samaná, and we work out the transition and move details in January. Even if that should fall through, I know my next step is in ministry. The days of corporate America are over for me, and it’s time for me to work out of service to the Lord.

My friend and mentor Mickey Bane summarized the situation succinctly upon my return from my recent D.R. trip. He told me, “It’s not a matter of whether or not God is calling you to go. That’s obvious. The question is whether or not He’s calling you to stay; to stay in your nine-to-five, handcuffed to a career that doesn’t fulfill you.” To hear Mickey put it like that brought everything into clarity for Lee and me.

THE NEXT STEPS

There is still a lot to be done before Lee and I are drinking café under palm trees in Samaná. The first thing is prayer. As I mentioned earlier, we need the AOL board to extend us an offer for the position, and I believe the more people are praying for this opportunity to come to fruition, the better. We have to sell our house and downsize, and by downsize I mean sell just about EVERYTHING! We also must work out the logistical details that will come with moving to either another country, another state, or just a small apartment in Tampa.

Whatever God has in store for us, I know it will be perfect. Wherever He sends us, I know we will go. Like Elwood Blues would say, we’re on a mission from God
… a mission that is just getting started.

 

****UPDATE******

A picture I took of the beach area that is just a 5-minute walk from the orphanage.
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Feet on the Ground

There are so many things that come to mind when I think about the word Mission. I think of an elite group of soldiers making their way through a South American jungle, en route to a specific location. I think of wordy statements corporations place on their websites, most of which go ignored by the companies’ employees. I think of a style of architecture popular in the Southwest.

…and yes, I think of Ethan Hunt precariously dangling from a cable in a sound and temperature sensitive computer room.

You've got the theme song stuck in your head now, don't you?
You’ve got the theme song stuck in your head now, don’t you?

But for the purpose of this particular post, my mission is to set you on a mission to help us take part in a mission trip.

In January, my wife and I will be joining other members of our church family in the Dominican Republic as part of a faith mission trip through Relevant Church. We’ve always wanted to be a part of a mission team, helping others in need, and Kingdom building here on Earth. Now we have a chance to do it, to be ‘feet on the ground’, and the part of something so much greater than we could offer as individuals.

But we need your help to get there.

We have a very modest goal of $2000. This will provide for the both of us to take part in the mission trip, and also covers our travel to the Dominican Republic and accommodations while we’re there.

If you’re interested in sponsoring us, Lee and I have set up a GoFundMe fundraising page at www.gofundme.com/gileeDR. Please note all donations made through our GFM page go directly to Relevant Church (we don’t hold any funds). If you prefer, you can donate directly through Relevant Church at bit.ly/Relevant_DR. And if you consider yourself old school, you can send a check, made payable to Relevant Church, to 1704 N. 16th St. Tampa, FL 33605. (Please be sure to include a note stating the donation is for Gil and Lee).

If you’re in a position where you can’t support us financially, you can still help us out by keeping us in your prayers. Additionally, you can share this post with your friends, as well as online via Facebook, Twitter, etc. Lee and I are blessed to have such a wonderful network of family, friends, and peers, and even if a small percentage of that network donated just $5 each, we’d easily reach our goal.

We want to thank you in advance for your time, generosity, and prayers. We hope we can be a reflection of your love and inspiration to those most in need in the Dominican Republic.

DR Mission Trip
Please help us reach our goal so we can be a part of something great for His Kingdom and His glory.

Friendly Friday – Kendall Lyons

Have you ever had a tough time explaining how you met someone? “Hey, how did you guys meet?” You stumble across um’s and awkward pauses until you figure out the best way to explain a peculiar story. That’s pretty much the case with my friend Kendall.

I had the great fortune of traveling to Colorado last summer to attend the Wild at Heart Boot Camp hosted by John Eldridge and his Ransomed Heart Ministries team. It was a great men’s retreat the opened my eyes to all types of new directions in my faith walk with Jesus, and allowed me to realize the warrior that lives in me, fighting everyday here on earth for the kingdom of God. It was four days of reflection, introspection, and fellowship with the hundreds of other men at the retreat.

In those moments of fellowship, we’d congregate around the fire, introducing ourselves and sharing life stories. I traveled to the retreat with my friend Jeff, and I told him I’d meet him down at the fire once I grabbed some stuff from our dormitory area. Upon my arrival, he peppered me with questions.

“Hey. Do you know this guy named cartoon daily?”

“Cartoon daily? His first name is cartoon?”

“No. That’s his Twitter handle. Cartoondaily ….. something.”

“What? What are you talking about.”

“I met this guy and he happened to mention he’s a blogger. I told him I was here with a buddy of mine who also is a blogger. I mentioned you’re danaCreative, and he said he knows you.”

“Wait. What? He said he knows me?”

“Yeah. Says he follows you on Twitter … or something like that.” (my friend Jeff was not very keen on the details that evening)

So after the sketchy conversation and upon returning home, I did some research and found @CartoonDaily1, better known as Kendall Lyons.

The Internet is a great tool. So much so that it allowed two complete strangers, both with a penchant for writing and a mutual love for Jesus Christ, to come together in a really unexplainable way. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Kendall in person, but we’ve interacted quite a bit since the retreat, and I am a fan of his work.

Kendall is a youth minister and a writer – he just released his book “22 Life Lessons for Personal Growth” – and a dedicated man of God. In addition, Kendall is a talented artist and self-proclaimed cartoon fanatic. I look forward to growing in this friendship with Kendall, and I smile knowing there is another warrior out there working hard to kingdom build here on earth.

You can find Kendall via his blog at KendallLyons.com. Please take a moment to check out Kendall’s animated mini-bio for Draw My Life. It’s excellent.

Happy Friday!

075/365 Sticky Art

My awesome daughter Natalie, in addition to being a rising soccer talent, a straight-A student, a respectful young woman, and, most importantly, a giving and selfless human being, is also pretty darn talented when it comes to art. Here’s a little something she put together with some wall-stick clay (aka smurf snot).

Pretty cool.

 

Sticky Art

012/365 nadaCreative

When I first put together my site for danaCreative,  I wrote how I came up with the name for our brand.

The dana aspect of our brand is an homage to Gil’s children and is a play on their names.  Many would question why Natalie, who is older than her brother Daniel, is not listed first.  The reason for this apparent slight is had she been listed first, the brand would be nadaCreative and then we’d simply be left with nothing.

Today, I signed up for Pinterest, and spent a couple of hours perusing the site and having my mind blown*. For those of you unfamiliar with the site, Pinterest lets you organize and share beautiful and inspiring things you find on the web. The items are ‘pinned’ to a pinboard, and you can browse pinboards created by other people. This browsing is a fun way to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.

In seeing the sheer volume of creativity and vision that other people have, it left me feeling very un-creative. Very nadaCreative. Still, I hope this new found drug site fosters new creativity inside of me to finish some work-in-progress projects at home and tackle some new ones.

Give Pinterest a try when you have some time. And ignore what others may tell you. It’s NOT a site just for women!

 

 

 

 

 

*Click here to have your mind blown.

Conflicted

Forgiveness. Vengeance. Pain. Suffering. Closure. Healing. Finality.

As I contemplate this week’s topic for Random Writers – What is one thing you felt strongly about but changed your mind? – these are the words that are rattling around in my brain.

I grew up a Reagan Republic in a very conservative, Hispanic, Catholic household in Miami. That meant there wasn’t a lot of room for shades of grey regarding most topics of discussion. Specific to the death penalty and capital punishment, the answer was clear cut; You willingly and deliberately kill someone and you deserve to die. There were no “if’s.” There were no “but’s.” There was simply an emphatic “Que lo maten” imperative from my parents coupled with equally emphatic hand gestures. (If there’s one thing about angry or emotional Hispanic conversation, it always comes with hand movements).

I never disagreed with that position. The message from the New Testament notwithstanding, I took the side of the Old Testament when it came to capital punishment. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. A life for a life. I was an unwavering supporter of the death penalty, understanding of the argument which states it’s better to set 100 guilty men free than to put one innocent man to death, but not overly concerned about that scenario.

Flash forward to 2008 when I was summoned to perform jury duty. It was a re-sentencing trial for a convicted murderer. The conviction was not in dispute. Rather, our job was to hear the evidence and make a recommendation of life in prison or the death penalty. It was an experience I will never forget, and one that made me reconsider my position on the death penalty. It’s so easy to think, “Fry the bastard” when you’re removed from the incident in question. However, when immersed in the details of case in which another person’s life rests literally on your judgment, a world of perspective is usually found in that moment.

Flash forward to today. The trial of the man accused of manslaughter in the death of my wife’s cousin begins. Five years to the day of her tragic passing, my in-laws are hoping for resolution, closure, and justice for their beloved Dee. It’s been a roller-coaster of delays and continuances, and we’re all praying the jury deliver a verdict of guilty.

Yet those prayers are to God, and Jesus taught us to forgive those who wrong us and pray for our enemies.

This is where my conflict lies.

Although the death penalty is not part of the discussion in the trial of the man accused of negligence in Dee’s death, it does, for me, raise the question of how can a parent not want anything but death for the person who is responsible for the death of his or her child?

My mind immediately goes to the scene from the movie “A Time to Kill” where Samuel L. Jackson’s character ambushes the men who savagely raped his daughter and kills them. I get that anger. I understand that rage.  I almost applaud it, because for me, parenting is a zero sum game. You invest your heart, your soul, your every ounce of being into your kids. And to have all of that taken away by someone else? How can you not go down the path of vengeance and want to kill that person?

I know I’m not answering this week’s topic question. I also know I’m avoiding it because I don’t particular like the answer as it applies to me.

Do I see the world of grey that exists in the discussion of the death penalty? Yes, I do. Am I a 100% proponent or opponent of capital punishment? No, I’m not. I better understand now that each circumstance is unique and must be reviewed in accordance to the specifics of that case (e.g. I’m all for putting to death a serial killer like Ted Bundy, but I felt a world of reservation regarding the recent execution of Troy Davis).

The only thing I am sure of, however, is that if – God forbid – someone ever took the life of one of my kids, I would consume myself in finding a way to kill that person with my own two hands.