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.

Cast Away Fear

Sometimes I wake up in full-on conversations with God. It’s a conversation that carries over from my dreams. The other morning, I woke up and felt the Holy Spirit tell me, “Write this down.” I did, and this is the result.

Cast Away Fear

I stand in the stream
And I cast my line
I wait and I wait
Everything seems just fine

No nibbles or bites
It’s time to re-cast
So I hurl it again
The new replaces the last

I stand and I wait
No action to be found
The fish ignore bait
Though I’m the only one around

Once again a re-cast
But my line becomes stuck
Is it a hook in a fish
Or is the hook in the muck

I tug and I yank
Using more force than the norm
And my line it goes flying
Like a leaf in a storm

It sails and it carries
Much too far than I prefer
Where the water is deeper
And causes my emotions to stir

I wade further and further
Outside my own comfort zone
As I follow my line
Into a greater unknown

My thoughts are all scrambled
No longer thinking of fish
“Please keep me safe, Lord.”
Is all that I wish

Then all of the sudden
My line it goes taut
And I spend the next moments
With the fish that I fought

Gone was the fear
That crept into my day
Replaced by the victory
That’s found after you pray

My plan it was altered
By His will divine
What I thought uncertain
Turned out just fine

A lesson of blessing
That always holds true
Triumph in tough times
When you keep God with you

 

FlyFish

 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with Thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6  (NIV)

Fellowship and Inspiration

I love my writers group. Every month, Lee and I trek down to Brandon to enjoy in the community and fellowship that is Brandon Christian Writers. The group is so supportive, and every time we meet I learn something new about writing, publishing, editing, etc. And the talent that is displayed as we share and critique each other’s work is astounding.

We had a great meeting this evening, and it left me feeling inspired and eager to write. I feel I’ve been slacking as of late, and this image pretty much sums up of what I need to remind myself daily.

 

Image found via Pinterest via funeralformyfat.tumblr.com
Image found via Pinterest via funeralformyfat.tumblr.com

 

Reflections and Projections: A Look Back and Ahead

I don’t want this to be another typical New Year’s Day blog, full of resolutions forgotten by February or empty promises I make to myself. I also don’t want this to be a long diatribe year-in-review of 2013, either.

So, instead, I think I am just going to use this post as a sort of mental scrapbook for all the awesome things Lee and I were able to share in 2013, and as a wish-list of what we want to do in 2014. The central theme: gratitude. Yes, Lee and I had some tough moments last year, but they all pail in comparison to the plethora of blessings we were given.

So as we look forward to the year ahead, most of us with the clean-slate optimism of “this is my year to be great”, keep in mind the following:

  • You ARE great.
  • There is no such thing as perfection. All we can hope to do is be better today than we were yesterday.
  • “Be happy in the moment. That’s enough. Each moment is all we need. Not more.” – Mother Teresa

2013 Gratitude List

My Kids
  • Natalie’s continued success with club and middle school soccer
  • Daniel’s participation in Odyssey of the Mind and Math Bowl
  • Daniel attending Camp Gilead and Busch Gardens Camp
  • Chaperoning Natalie to Howl O’Scream
  • Kids spending the week with us over the summer and then again while their mom was traveling
  • Cheering on Wiregrass High School girls basketball with Natalie
  • Their overall good health and well being
Church / Faith
Music Concerts
Friends
  • My 40th birthday celebration
  • Beer nights with the guys
  • Weddings (Patricia & Adam, Tracey & Matt, Leslie Ann & Graham, Stacey & Sanjay)
  • Leigh S. moving back to Florida
  • Dinner nights (Jeff & Ellen, George & Ashley, Stephen & Lindsey, Warren & Gwen, Mark & Renee, Alyson & Tom, Jamie & Jamey, Jeff & Lindsey)
  • Super Bowl and college football parties
  • East coast trips to Casa de Smith
Lee

I am probably overlooking several events and people, and for that I am sorry. I guess it’s a good problem to have when your life is so full of blessings that it’s hard to keep track of them all.

As for 2014, Lee and I have some very lofty financial and lifestyle goals. We want to reduce debt by sticking to a strict budget, and also lose weight by trying the Fast Metabolism Diet. Both will take a serious amount of discipline and determination, but they work hand-in-hand given we spent about three times as much going out to dinner in 2013 than we did on groceries.

We also plan/hope to take Lee’s nephew to Cancun when he graduates from high school in May, and then travel back to Mexico in the late summer to visit my family in Puebla and spread my father’s ashes in his hometown. It will be 10 years in September that my father passed away.

Personally, I want to ensure one post to my blog per day. That’s not to say I will be writing every day. Rather, I want to make sure I add something – be it a written post, a photo, a funny YouTube video: something – to my blog every day.

Through it all, Lee and I know that God will direct us where He wants us to go. I know my faith walk saw amazing growth in 2013, and I pray that it continues to expand in this new year. I wish you all the best with your goals, dreams, and ambitions for this year.

“For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

Blessings

The Fantasy In My Head

Random Writers: Write about what you want most out of life.

In my future fantasy world, I’m sitting on a plane – first class, of course – when the person next to me engages in conversation.

“So, are you going to New York for business or pleasure?”

<slight hesitation> “Ummm … a little bit of both.”

<curious look> “Really? Do you care to elaborate?”

“I’m killing two birds with one stone. I am meeting up with friends in New York, but I also have some work to do.”

“Oh. What kind of work do you do?”

<irritatingly large smile> “I’m a writer. I’m going to Manhattan for a book signing.”

Yes, that’s the conversation I have with my imaginary travel companion every time I think about what I want most out of life. Well, when I think about the personal, selfish version of that question.

In reality, what I want most out of life is for my children to grow up healthy and happy, and to see them realize all their goals and dreams. That’s perfection for me. But if I allow myself to indulge in a personal fantasy, it has to be receiving a paycheck – a big, substantial paycheck – for something that I wrote.

It’s a fine line, however, given that writing for me is fun. It started as therapy that metamorphosed into a hobby. It began as something in which I dabbled and evolved into something I can call much more concrete than that. Still, writing has never been a job nor the source of my livelihood. My mundane, corporate-world, 8-5 job takes care of that for me.

Instead, writing has been a recent ambition of mine. One where I can fantasize about sitting behind a table, meeting new people, and signing my name until my wrist falls off. Of course, in my fantasy world I look less like me and more like Richard Castle, but that’s neither here nor there.

Having self-published two short novels – and completing the third in that series – was a great experience for me. Having never written anything like that before, it was so amazing to receive such great feedback from my friends and family. It opened my eyes to the reality that God did grace me with a modicum of writing talent, and if applied properly, I could produce something someone else might find interesting to read.

Still, the realities of day-to-day life provide the perfect series of excuses for not pursuing, and ultimately not fulfilling, those dreams. “I’ll try to find some time to write tomorrow.” I’ve been saying that to myself for about a year and a half now.

So maybe I’m putting the cart before the proverbial horse. In thinking about all the things I allow to keep me from writing, perhaps the one thing I want most out of life is to have the dedicated time to invest in my writing, an effort that could one day possibly lead to my fantasy scenario on a plane.

Dedicated time for writing? Now THAT’S a fantasy!

When Others Don’t Believe In You

In an effort to write with greater frequency, my friends and I came up with the idea of pooling our collective brain power and writing once a week about various and random topics. The idea is that we’d each take a day of the week and publish our unique stab at the issue at hand. Thus, Random Writers was born.

We wrote down a list of things about which we’d like to ponder, discuss, and write. Then we took each item and selected at random, of course, 15 topics to cover each week through the rest of the year.

I was confidently blasé with our first topic: How do you deal with people who don’t believe in you? “That’s easy,” I told myself. “Two words: *bleep* you!” Really, why would I care if someone doesn’t believe in me? As far as I’m concerned, it’s *SHRUG* and move on.

The more I pondered it, however, the more I realized it’s not that easy. To just write off those who don’t believe in me is to grossly simplify the issue, and one of the purposes of the vehicle that is Random Writers is to provide depth and perspective; to flesh out in written word the questions and topics that may weigh us down at times.

I thought and thought and thought, and I kept finding myself striking out in terms of how to best answer the question. I searched through my past for examples of people who didn’t believe in me, and I had a tough time coming up with an instance that was applicable. I thought about how I would respond today if someone didn’t believe in me, and just like that, the answer presented itself. Well, part of the answer at least.

As a result of my internal deliberations, I discovered that how I would respond to such a situation is completely a matter of proximity.

There’s a saying. “If you want to be successful, surround yourself with smart people. If you want to be really successful, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.” I’ve tried to apply that in my life. I like to look at my collection of friends – my extended family, if you will – and see there are no idiots in the bunch. Sure, we’ve all had our idiotic moments – I myself am at the forefront of that list – but all in all, those that fill my life with love and support are smart, intelligent, and giving people.

As with most things, there are degrees.

There are casual acquaintances. You know, the ones you wave hello to from across the room and sometimes have a tough time remembering their names. There are also friends you know and have hung out with, but you see them few and far between, and the friendship is mostly confined to exchanging comments on Facebook or Twitter. Then there are good friends you invite to special occasions like weddings or holiday parties. And then I have my core, inner-circle friends. These are the people I’d call first if there were an emergency or crisis in my life.

The closer someone is to that inner-circle, the more I value their thoughts, feedback, and, most importantly, their opinion of me. This is what I mean by proximity. I couldn’t care less if an acquaintance of mine didn’t believe in me, but I would be quite devastated if one my core friends didn’t believe in my ability to accomplish something I set out to do. Same thing if they completely dismissed an idea or dream of mine. Because I hold in such high regard those that make up my core circle of friends, their doubt in me would in turn lead me to doubt myself.

The other part of my answer came to me in a dream, and I truly believe it was God helping me find what I needed in order to write this post. In my dream, I was living alone in an apartment and all my neighbors hated me. They wanted me to move out and they would remind of this on a daily basis by leaving boxes and other moving materials at my doorstep. I remember feeling angry and thinking how wrong they were. I remember promising myself in my dream that I would not move. Whatever it took and no matter how hard they made it, I was staying.

What that translates to for me is resolve. I am sure I will encounter many naysayers in my life as I pursue projects or ideas or help others in their own endeavors. I’ve learned the answer is not to simply dismiss them with a “*bleep* you”, but rather to look them in the eye and say, “Just watch.”

Be resolved in your pursuits and let determination be your fuel.  Couple that with keeping an open ear to the counsel of those you trust and respect, and success is sure to follow.

Please be sure to check out Jeff Smith‘s take on this question as he covers this topic in his blog on Tuesday.

Giving In

It’s a daily struggle for me to get into gear. The blessing that is working from home has a flip side, a side that is weighted down by sluggishness and complacency. I thoroughly enjoy not having to commute into work, but I also have to fight myself to ‘get going’ in the mornings and get the ball rolling. Sometimes inspiration – not to mention the crack of the boss’ whip – comes soon after 8:00 AM. Other times I feel like I don’t get out of second gear until well past 10:00.

Still, there is no rhyme or reason as to why or when the moment of energetic infusion hits. It could be a pressing deliverable for work, it could be a crisis situation (which in my work world usually means systems outage), or it could be the right song playing on the radio at the just right time.

Sometimes it’s a tweet from a friend. Sometimes it’s a blog post that I take a moment to read because, after all, I don’t feel like doing much of anything else. Sometimes something as simple as someone’s Facebook status can change my perspective and outlook for the day.

Inspiration is funny like that. She’s a clever little devil.

I’ve had this voice in my head for the past month now. It was a little, nagging whisper I’ve been ignoring for some time, and it finally go to me today.

“You need to write more!”

For weeks and weeks, it was there like that faint buzz you sometimes hear when an electronic device is turned on. I’d simply cast it aside like an annoying pet begging for food next to the dinner table.

“Go away. I’m ‘busy’.”

“No you’re not. You’ve been staring at ESPN.com for thirty five minutes.”

So as I gave into my lack of motivation this morning, I was bombarded online by message after message after message. It’s as if this little voice took over the Internet and deliberately directed content my way.

There was a tweet about how Rome wasn’t built in a day, but at some point the project DID start. My friend wrote a blog the mentions how Stephen Kings writes every day. Another friend’s blog got me thinking about what my calling is, and whether or not that voice in my head has something to do with it. This all came to a head when I received notification that someone I admire and is an inspiration to me is following me on twitter (yeah, I don’t get it either).

So here I am … BAM … shaking off the morning molasses and feeding the voice in my head. Call her my muse, call her a bitch; either way, both are probably correct.

Lazy is tempting seductress, one that fills you with emptiness and the regrets of missed opportunities. I know her well. Still, you never know when inspiration is going swoop in to help save you from lazy’s quicksand grip. Once she does, however, don’t let yourself hide behind excuses. I know I have.

The reward of the accomplishment is in looking back at all that was overcome to reach that point.