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!

 

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2018 – What a Year

2018 – What a Year

This is where I start.

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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

Three-Six-Three

Three-Six-Three

Three hundred and sixty-three days.

Not quite one year, but in many ways it feels like a lifetime.

On November 28, 2018, my wife Lee and I will board a plane to fly back to the United States. We are going home to reset ourselves, pray, and hopefully discern what God has in store for us next. We are also going home to proverbially lick our wounds and learn from the experiences of the past five months.

This time last year, I was preparing to accompany my friend Jeff on his first ever mission trip. We traveled to the D.R. on November 30, 2017, to take part in a dental mission trip, and also helped put the finishing touches on a new church in Los Corrales, Samaná. It was a trip that would change my life.

In very short summary, my wife and I sold our house, the majority of our belongings, stepped out in obedience to God, and moved to the Dominican Republic to serve. Now, we have just about everything we own in seven suitcases and our carry-ons. (#baggagefees).

I am sure there will be blog posts in the future in which I write about lessons learned, the hows and whys of what happened, etc. But for now, I sit here with sadness in my heart because of the friends we are leaving.

Friends is not the right word.

In the last five months, we’ve become family. We laughed, shared, and created together. We also struggled, cried, and experienced frustrations together. We made each other better, and I know I’ve learned so much from the women and men who keep God in the forefront of their lives and reflect His love is all they do.

Making the decision to end our ministry partnership with Advocates of Love was one of the most difficult and depleting choices I’ve ever made. Lee shares that sentiment with me. It was so incredibly hard because of the children we are leaving as well as the wonderful staff that makes the entire orphanage work. I still marvel at what they do day in and day out with the limited resources at hand, and even though their work is thankless, I know God is updating their account in Heaven on a daily basis.

The title of this post was almost Salty and Exhausted. Those words speak to the amount of tears I’ve shed in getting to this point, and how empty I feel inside as a result.

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I will carry my Dominican family members with me in my heart wherever I go, and I will be counting the days when the Lord allows me to come back to visit. Hopefully, it will be a lot sooner than three hundred and sixty-three days.

Axl Rose Was Right

Axl Rose Was Right

Actually, my pastor was right.

Never pray for patience, because when you do, God is more than happy to put you in situations where you need patience. Ever since Lee and I moved here to the Dominican Republic, I think I’ve prayed for patience on a daily basis. I know what you’re thinking, but you should know that living in the D.R. and being put in situations where you need patience are redundant.

So when I am in a jam where my head is about to explode, I think of two things. The first is another thing I learned at Relevant: Be the church. It’s a mantra that reminds me that regardless of the situation, I am called to be a reflection of God’s grace and love.

::whispering:: Be the church. Be the church. Be the church.

The second thing I think of is the chorus of perhaps my favorite Guns N’ Roses song called Patience. Although the song is about a relationship between a man and a woman, the lyrics of the chorus are applicable in any stressful, p.i.t.a. situation.

::singing in my head:: ♫ All we need is just a little patience. ♫

Today we completed some back to school shopping for some of the kids, and the scene inside the store we visited can be best described as chaotic. For reasons I can’t really explain (yet I understand because I grew up in Miami), the people here seem to be very impatient. Don’t get me wrong; Dominicans are sweet and friendly and inviting and generous, but they are absolutely not zen-like. Just spend a minute driving on the roads and you’ll understand.

So when there are nine people in line and there is only one person at the cash register, the vocal opinions start flying. Comments about how there should be other registers open abounded. People began looking to cut in line because they only had one item to buy. The atmosphere grew toxic quickly.

::singing in my head:: ♫ All we need is just a little patience. ♫

It’s important to note the store was not air-conditioned, the outside temperature was about 90 degrees, and it had just finished raining, so humidity was at a million percent. It was hot, sticky, crowded, noisy, the lady behind me was jabbing my ribs with her shopping basket, and there was a man in the corner that kept looking at me funny.

::singing in my head:: ♫ You and I just use a little patience. ♫

In looking at the lady working the register, you can see her counting the minutes in her head until closing time. She was being berated by customers, sometimes verbally, almost always visually. I stepped up to pay for my items, Axl Rose’s whistling still playing in my head.

I said hello and I wished her a good day. Startled, she looked up from her register as if in shock anyone would offer her a gesture of kindness. I smiled at her and she smiled back, I think more out of instinct than out of genuine reciprocation. We completed the transaction and I thanked her for her help. She looked at me and thanked me with her eyes. It was only a split second, but I can see it was a moment of relief she was able to experience before diving once again head first into the hornet’s nest.

::whispering:: Be the church.

Now I know this post smacks of humble-brag, but what I want to share is this: goodness begets goodness. In this particular case, patience begat kindness. For me, it became apparent all my prayers for patience were not for my benefit but rather for the benefit of others. All my hours in the proverbial furnace were not so I could appreciate the splendor of the refinement. They were so the woman at the register could have a tiny moment of joy in an otherwise joyless situation.

God does not work on us for our sake alone. God works on us for the betterment of His kingdom. And the thought of being an instrument for His glory is music to my ears.

 

Our Life in the Dominican Republic (So Far)

When the year started, I really wanted to post something on my blog every day. I built good momentum until about the April timeframe when I was involved in a car accident. Then, I had a week-long site visit to our children’s home in the D.R. and the lack of reliable Internet threw me off track.

Lee and I have been in the D.R. now for forty-five days and this is my first blog post. The thing with blogging is that you need both time AND motivation to sit down, organize your thoughts, type them out, edit them, and make sure they formatted correctly for your respective blogging platform. Suffice it to say time and motivation with regards to writing has been scarce.

So, as I sit in my apartment, I am feeling motivated to take some time and capture my thoughts for my blog. I will say there is a LOT to capture, so in the interest of avoiding a TL/DR post, I’ve broken this submission into various, bite-sized pages. This way it’s not an overwhelming read, and you can easily come back to it later if you so choose.

With that, I thank everyone for the continued prayers and support, and – of course – for taking your time to share in this writing experience with me. I hope you enjoy.


Click here for Page 1 of our story so far.

Life in the Slow Lane

Life in the Slow Lane

I drove into town today to get online and catch up with some email and other work items. I wish I could say I can easily get online at the children’s home, but whatever service they use for Internet is DOG SLOW. So much so I would argue it’s a waste of money for the organization since the Internet connection cannot be used effectively.

Sitting at the restaurant in Samana was better but still not nearly at the speed to which I am accustomed in the states. If this is how the Internet is all over the island, then I think I’m trouble. When I spoke to Mike, I explained how I can live without hot water and air conditioning, but I draw the line at bad Internet. Although I am only half-joking, I do realize part of being a missionary is having to let go of the comforts to which I am accustomed.

Still, Lee and I have such big plans and ideas for the children’s home, and many of those ideas require a reliable, functional, and fast Internet connection. I guess we’ll be focusing our prayers on a viable solution for when we arrive.

Mourning Eutaw

As a follow-up to my post from yesterday where Lee and I met with Bob and Joan Galasso, I wanted to share a realization that came to light as part of our discussing our move into mission work.

I mentioned to Bob and Joan how when Lee and I first felt the calling to do full-time mission work, my heart was to do so in Latin America. D.R., Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica; any place in which I could utilize the fact I am bilingual. It was also based on the fact we’d served in Eutaw, Alabama, and the idea of doing full-time mission work there scared me.

Lee’s heart, however, was for Eutaw, and following last summer’s domestic mission trip to Alabama, she desperately wanted to end up there when the time for us to transition came. I spoke to my pastor how the idea of Eutaw terrified me, and Paul reminded me how Lee and I had the opportunity to mend fences, build bridges, and be an important part of racial reconciliation for that town.

Following that conversation, I felt the Holy Spirit stirring in me. I felt my attitude change. Not only was I coming around on the idea of serving in Eutaw, I was full steam ahead with the idea of church planting in Eutaw. So much so, I started developing my introductory sermon series for the community of Branch Heights.

With the opportunity to move to the D.R. and become directors of the children’s home for Advocates of Love, I was left wondering why God stirred those feelings and dreams in my heart the way He did. As I explained it out loud to Bob and Joan, I said, “I know I can do this, and I know I can do it well. I’m just not sure why God changed the assignment all of the sudden.”

…and as I was saying it, I realized what I was doing. The look on Joan’s face confirmed it. There were many “I’s” in my statement. There was a large focus on what I could do, and no mention of what God would do. It was very prideful and very arrogant. As Joan went on to explain, perhaps the assignment changed because God didn’t need me to rely on me. God wants me to rely on Him.

Bob went on to explain that losing a dream is not unlike losing a friend or a loved one. There are emotions that need to be dealt with, and I had to mourn the loss of that dream. I had to come to terms with the fact that everything I wanted to do for the families of Branch Heights, using my position from the pulpit to serve them and hopefully create betterment in their lives, would not come to fruition. I had to mourn that loss.

So here I am, writing somewhat out of catharsis in order to say goodbye to that specific pastoral dream. I write that knowing that although our role in the D.R. will be mostly operational in nature, there is the potential for a lot of pastoral-like services. The thing is, I have no idea what that looks like. I do not know exactly how will be received or if the families there will be receptive to the American couple in their neighbourhood. The beauty of it is I don’t have to know. All I have to do is let go of my pride, trust in God, and know that I will be where He needs me to be.