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.

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Family Time

After celebrating the completion of our house sale with dinner at the house of our good friends Ashley and George Friday night, Lee and I shared a relaxing breakfast this morning before heading over to my best friend Jeff’s house to celebrate the high school graduation of his daughter Emma. I’ve known Jeff for 12 years which means I’ve seen his kids grow up from little munchkins to the amazing young adults they are today. They are like nieces and nephews to me, and my kids have the same relationship with him.

It’s always a great time to partake in wonderful food and joyful celebration of a milestone event like graduation, and it was a blessing to be there for Emma and watch her have such a fun time with her friends.

Later this evening Lee and I met up with my kids to go see Solo: A Star Wars Story. Although Lee and I had already seen the movie, we had no issue with seeing it a second time (as well as seeing it through the eyes of my kids). Going to the movies has always been a part of what we do as a family, and it’s one of the things I will miss the most once we move to the D.R.

Still, we’re blessed to have this time to create new memories together and share these wonderful moments with each other. I know it will be these memories that will, in part,  get me through the challenges that lie ahead in our ministry, so the more we can make between now and July 1, the better.

In Memoriam

In Memoriam

There is a lot said negatively about social media, much of it well deserved. However, my experience today with social media (e.g. Facebook) is one that bridged the gaps of time and distance.

My day started by reconnecting with an old friend. This is someone whom I’ve known since I was about eleven years old, and it’s been about twenty-five years since she and I had any kind of conversation. Yet through instant messaging, we reconnected quickly and it felt just like those times we’d chat right before Brother Carl’s English class in high school.

My evening ended with the opposite set of emotions. Once again through Facebook, I was informed by my cousins in Mexico my uncle Jose Luis had passed away. For someone I’d seen only six times in my life, my uncle Pepe – as he was known – was a joyous figure in my life. He was always witty and gregarious. If you were around him and not laughing, it was because you weren’t listening to what he was saying. He reminded me much of my father, and when I saw him last in 2014, it was bittersweet for me (my father passed away in 2004).

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Tio Pepe and me in 2014.

To hear of his passing moves me, mostly because I am not in a position to get to Puebla and mourn with my family. It’s always been an unfortunate reality; half of my family 1,200 miles away. Even though we are related, my life to them is more of a foreigner than that of a family member. I mourn nonetheless because it was Pepe who was standing bedside with me when my father died. It was Pepe who held me tight as I broke down with emotions. It was Pepe who reassured me things would be alright.

…and they eventually were.

How I wish I was in Puebla to hold and console my cousin Paula and her daughters. How I wish I could be there for them to remind them everything will be alright. Yet I mourn nonetheless the loss of my uncle, a devout man with a friendly soul.

I wish I had more words, but my heart aches. Instead, I will share the words of my cousin Janny. Her heartfelt eloquence says it best.

My precious and handsome uncle, today your suffering ceases and you finally start your journey to be reunited with your beloved Lola (his wife), with Gaby (his daughter), with your mother and your brothers. Someday we will meet again!

Thank you for all your love and teachings. Thank you for your example of honesty, rectitude, fidelity, optimism, joy and strength! Tireless warrior, now it’s your turn to enjoy eternal life! We hurt with your departure. It squeezes the heart this feeling of emptiness that you have left. But as you taught us, we will be strong, we will smile, we will joke, and we will love with strength and courage because we come from a caste of warriors!

I send you lots of kisses and hugs, and when we meet again, we’ll laugh again together! See you soon, my uncle!

 

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Rest in Peace, Tio.

 

Daddy Duties – Part 1

I really do enjoy ‘being there’ for my kids. Especially now that they are older and have their respective significant others and it’s sometimes hard for me to get on their calendar. But with having been out of town for a couple of weeks, coming home and hanging with my kids is a great feeling.

Today I got to drive my son to his math final. It’s a dual-enrollment class at Pasco Hernando State College, and the exam was at the West Campus of PHSC. In short, it was about an hour’s drive with traffic. When I previously drove him to his mid-term, I ignored Google and we arrived 5 minutes after his exam started.

Today, I would not make the same mistake. I adhered to Google’s directions and we arrived fifteen minutes early On the drive both to and from, Danny and I got to talk about planning for his upcoming Senior year in high school. We talked about college planning and how he’s well positioned to get a full Bright Futures scholarship so long as he keeps his GPA up. We spent all of three seconds talking about his relationship with his girlfriend, and the pivoted to how he’ll be attending the Thirty Seconds to Mars concert in June.

The great thing about today was that it never felt like a chore. Although he could have driven himself to his exam, I eagerly wanted to take him. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, and I am still flabbergasted that in one week he will be seventeen years old.

Being a dad has its challenges, but when you get to be a mentor and consultant to a bright young man whom you helped create, there is no greater feeling in the world.

In Memoriam

In Memoriam

My aunt Aida passed away yesterday morning. She had been battling illness and was eighty-five years old.

It’s never easy losing a loved one, even when their passing is expected. Even when there’s a sense of calm because you know they are no longer in pain or discomfort. Even when you know with confidence they are in the presence of God, it’s not easy.

I will always remember my aunt for her spirit of support and encouragement. As the oldest of my grandparent’s (on my mom’s side) five children, she was the standard bearer. Her leadership was palpable, and it reflected in both how she raised my cousins and how she interacted with my brother and me.

Like my mom, my Aunt Aida was not one to take shortcuts or consider half-assed efforts as acceptable. She pushed me – all of the cousins, really – to strive for bigger and better all the time. At times she was hard and perhaps too rigid, but I know it was born out of love and a sincere desire to see us all achieve our potential. Her personality embodied the characteristics of both my grandparents, but at the same time she was one of a kind.

We’ll be celebrating her life and laying her to rest the first week April. In lieu of flowers, my aunt requested donations be made to Samantha’s Purpose on behalf of her grandnephew Christian Perez, a young man whom she loved dearly.

 

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Rest in Peace, Tia. 

 

Two Dudes and a Truck

Two Dudes and a Truck

Exhausted.

It’s been such a long day, but in the end so worth it. Danny and I loaded up a 16-foot Penske truck with items for my mother-in-law and nephew. After about 3 hours of loading (we had to disassemble my King-sized canopy bedframe), we made the 5.5-hour drive to Dothan, Alabama.

The drive was not bad (I got lost in an audio book), and when we arrived at Hunter’s place, the joy and excitement he and his fiancé expressed at the new bed made it all worth it.

Kayla and Hunter are getting married in September and kicking off a new chapter in their lives. There will be a lot of new for them going forward. Lee and I, in an effort to move into our next life chapter, have to let go of a lot of old stuff. To be able to gift them the bed and bedroom set is a blessing.

Mom’s The Word

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.