Project Gratitude – Getting Ugly

Project Gratitude – Getting Ugly

In the summer of 2006, at a music event in South Carolina, Lee and I were introduced to what we now affectionately refer to as our music family. I literally do not know where we would be without the impact this tribe of music-loving lunatics has made in our lives.

Because of our music family, we taken part in amazing floating music festivals, developed deep, inner-circle friendships, traveled to places we most likely never would have on our own, and I’ve even jumped out of a plane.


In fact, it was one of our music family members that introduced us to our church, an event that has truly transformed our lives.

Tonight was no exception. Our friends Jen and Joe hosted their annual Ugly Christmas Sweater party, and since we took part in last year’s shindig, there was no way we could miss this one.

Jen has quite the talent for not only hosting parties, but also making sure they’re entertaining with ice-breakers, games, and – apparently – a well defined, almost Germanesque sense of schedule. But in all seriousness, it was a great time. And it’s not about the prizes for ugliest sweater or the dirty Santa gift exchange. It’s about being with people whose company we genuinely enjoy and about whom we genuinely care.

There’s something unique about the bond we share with our fellow music fanatics. It’s a bond that has been strengthened over the last eleven years by shared memories, meaningful lyrics, loads of laughter, and the occasional circumstance that has left us all in mourning. There’s the saying, “Friends are family you get to pick,” and our music family is exactly that.


Today I am eternally grateful for this group of souls that occupy such a huge spot in my heart, and in particular for Jen and Joe and yet another amazing experience I now get to treasure forever.



365 Days of Blessings – A Year in Review

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 Transformation
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.


Spring Forward
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.


Summertime, Ey!
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.

We miss our Boo, Monkey, and Peppy.
We miss our Boo, Monkey, and Peppy.

Doctor, Doctor
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.

The Reminder
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.


Very Good Indeed

My house feels like a continual work in progress. There’s always something that needs to get done, some project that needs to be finished. Last summer, we had the main room of the house repainted, and we still haven’t gotten around to putting up the pictures frames, etc. we took down in order to have the room painted. Like a said … a continual work in progress.


Today, however, I got a lot done to getting closer to where I want my house to be. My mother-in-law, who lives with us, downsized her bed from a double to a twin. So not only did I have to put together her new bed with bookcase headboard, I also moved her previous bed into my daughter’s room. The positive aspect is that it was definitely an upgrade for Natalie (she had been sleeping on a day bed I obtained before she was even born), but the negative was we had to clean out and rearrange her room first.

So between Daniel helping me put together the new bed (think Ikea assembly work) and Natalie getting rid of her old, little girl stuff, it was a very busy day. But it was wonderful because I go to share it all with my kids. There’s something special about having my not-so-little helpers and sharing those experiences with them. I caught myself looking at my daughter and having the realization that two short years from now I’ll be preparing for her to go off to college. I need as many of these special days as I can get, especially when you consider they live at their mother’s house and my time with them is limited at best.

So we finished all the work and went out for a well deserved dinner. Upon returning, I helped Natalie put the sheets on her new bed, and I finished moving the remaining miscellaneous items from her room. In that grouping was one item I had completely forgotten I had taken down when we had our main room painted last summer.


How appropriate that on this Good Friday, the Holy Spirit directed me to rediscovering the crucifix. I’ve been working to encapsulate my day to day in God, to start and end my day with Him. As my evening came to a close, it was a beautiful reminder of how much He loves me and the sacrifice He made for my benefit. I work and strive to give my kids everything they need, but it is all microscopic compared to what God does to provide for me.

 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”Romans 5:8 NIV

Delightfully Different

I really hate Mondays. Even during the NFL season when Monday Night Football is in full swing, I still hate Mondays. However, sometimes Monday’s just have a way of working out.

On the heels of a successful showing a the Florida State Cup and three games in two days, my daughter’s soccer team had the night off. No practice. This meant a night of not seeing my daughter given I take her to her training sessions on Mondays. I feel I don’t get to see my kids nearly enough, and I know my daughter will be off to college (2017) before I can say, “Where did the time go?” So tonight, we did something completely different.

I took my daughter to dinner. Just the two of us. I let her pick the place – Bonsai Sushi – and let her order what she wanted. In a manner that is typical of my daughter and less and less surprising every day, she ordered off the menu. “I don’t see it here on the list, but this place has a Caterpillar roll and it’s really good.” Not only was it good, it was divine.

Caterpillar Roll
(Stock image. Not the actual roll we had.)

We followed up dinner with some dessert next door at Happy Cow. It’s our favorite frozen yogurt spot, and it’s definitely a treat. The toughest choice is always, “should I be good and get fat-free yogurt with fresh fruit toppings, or be bad? (i.e. everything that contains peanut butter in it)”


Happy Cow

Finally, she wanted to practice her driving, so we went to a secluded part of the housing development and worked on her fledgling driving skills.

Dinner, dessert, and driving: It was a 3D kinda night. If you had been standing in front of me, you might have seen my heart beat its way out of my chest. It was an evening I’ll cherish forever, and one that made an every day Monday turn out to be quite spectacular.


Natalie and Me

Nothing More

It’s such a blessing to be surround by and connected to so much music in my life. I love my music family, and I cherish the priceless memories we’ve shared since I was introduced to this wonderful, music community back in summer of 2006.

One of the bands that I just love to listen to is The Alternate Routes. The voice of lead singer Tim Warren is simply memorizing, and I’ve been known to put their albums on repeat over and over again on my iPod.

The Alternate Routes have a relatively new song out called Nothing More. It was featured during the Winter Olympics, and I want to take a moment to share it with you. The lyrics are incredible, and the music is simply beautiful.

To be humble, to be kind.
It is the giving of the peace in your mind.
To a stranger, To a friend
To give in such a way that has no end.

We are Love
We are One
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are Peace
We are War
We are how we treat each other and Nothing More

To be bold, to be brave.
It is the thinking that the heart can still be saved
And the darkness can come quick
The Dangers in the Anger and the hanging on to it.

We are Love
We are One
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are Peace
We are War
We are how we treat each other and Nothing More

Tell me what it is that you see
A world that’s filled with endless possibilities?
Heroes don’t look they used to, they look like you do.

We are Love
We are One
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are Peace
We are War
We are how we treat each other and Nothing More

If your find yourself wanting more of The Alternate Routes, be sure to check out their tour dates. You can catch them live here in Florida at Rock by the Sea (May 15-18) at St. George Island. Hope to see you there. 

Missed A Day

So much for posting every day. I’m a little bummed that I had no post on my blog yesterday (Wednesday), but it’s not without good reason.

There are times you have to drop everything for what’s important. Sometimes there’s a phone call or an incident that takes your previously scheduled plans and throw them out the window. There are times when relationship, be it by blood or by choice, takes precedence over whatever it is you thought you needed to do. Wednesday night was one of those nights.

I am very blessed to have many brothers in my life. One is by blood, the others are not. The others are men with whom I interact the most in my day to day (my blood brother lives in South Florida and we see each other only a couple of times per year). The others are the ones with which I get together for beer and barbecue. They are the ones with whom I travel. They are the ones that make up my inner circle, and are the first ones I’d call if something bad happened.

I am also blessed to be considered in the same way by them as well. I’ve maintained for some time that the only thing better than being able to love someone is the knowledge that you are loved. It’s reaffirming and reassuring to know you’re appreciated and, well, needed.

There is something about the love brothers share. It’s seen in locker rooms. You read about it from the battlefields. It truly is hard to explain. So rather than try, I will simply share the poem I wrote several years ago.

You answered the phone when I called late that night
You had my back when I got caught in that fight
You helped me up all those times I fell
You guided me out of my personal hell

It’s strange how strangers can come together
And for this circumstance we are both better … off
Both as individuals and as men
And through it all we’d both do it again

We don’t share DNA, we don’t even share a name
Yet through it all, you’re my brother all the same
We live our lives and go about our separate day to day
But I’m with you, brother, every step of the way

Our kids come together and they play
And we hope that their kids will do the same one day
We watch some football and have some beer
We talk about life and those things we fear

We’ve redefined what it means to be family
‘Cause you and I don’t share a branch on a tree
Yet we share an unspoken love that bonds like no other
A bond that can only be defined as that of a brother

It’s in the lyrics of a classic tune
It’s in the games we watch on Saturday afternoon
It’s in the motorcycles rides that take us away
It’s in all those bar tabs you decided to pay
It’s our respective better halves keeping us straight
It’s knowing because of them we’re able to be great
It’s in keeping perspective every time we compete
It’s in living a life that is full and complete

We don’t share DNA, we don’t even share a name
Yet through it all, you’re my brother all the same
We live our lives and go about our separate day to day
But I’m with you, brother, every step of the way

Silent Hero

Time is indiscriminate. The same 24 hours in a day pass by for everyone, regardless of age, income, or status. We may all experience the passing of time differently, but it is the same nonetheless.

I believe as we get older, the days seem to zip along a little bit faster. Days, weeks, months, years: all of them building upon themselves in a frantic blur of memories and times gone by. There are some moments, however, where everything seems to stop.

I have very fond memories of my high school years. I recall the friendships and the sprawling 13-acre campus right on Biscayne Bay. I remember trying to sneak into the Vizcaya Estate and Freshman initiations (i.e. getting tossed into three-foot deep water from the school parking lot). But what I enjoyed the most of my high school experience was the camaraderie I experienced by participating in different sports.

In high school, I was a runner. Not premier, but good enough to be competitive on the 2-A school circuit. At the height of my Senior year, I was running ten miles per day – three in the morning and seven more after school – and I could complete a 5k in under 15 minutes.

I couldn’t have achieved that level of personal success if not for my coach. Coach Sally Ann Carrie was a tornado of a coaching personality, but you couldn’t tell by her thin and petite frame. She was demanding yet fair, tough yet understanding. She was different from any other woman I had met at that age – primarily because she wasn’t Hispanic – and she opened my eyes to what it truly meant to apply my potential and make the most of the gifts God gave me.

Sally believed in me in a way no one had before. It was different from the support I received from my family. It was different from the mentoring I had received from previous coaches in other sports. Sally made me want to push harder. She made me want to be better. She taught me that true focus, that tunnel-visioned attention to detail, has the power to unlock a talent within us we never knew existed.

I carry those lessons with me today, more than twenty years from the miles and sweat and sometimes physical anguish that taught them to me. When I feel the need to push a little bit harder, I can recall the sound of her voice as I would whip around turn three on the final lap of the mile run. “C’mon, Gil. C’mon!” Her voice both distinct and direct.

That voice echoes in my heart tonight, a heart saddened by the news that Sally has only a couple more weeks left to live. Having fought a prolonged battle with cancer over the past several years, my coach has decided that her run here on earth has come to an end. As her cancer has spread, she has made the decision to prepare to meet God in peace.

I think of all the time that has passed since I last saw Coach Sally. Days, weeks, months, years. Decades. I am saddened by the reality of how easy it is to lose touch as we go on with our lives. I feel regret at not having reached out to her on a regular basis. I feel shame at taking for granted she would always be there, just an email or phone call away.

As it turns out, cancer can be just as indiscriminate as time.

Sally Ann Carrie-Martinez
Thank you, Sally, for being a hero to me, and for teaching me what it means to dig deep and finish the race. May you enter into Heaven with the knowledge that you are loved and that you will be greatly missed.

Updated: Coach Sally was called home by God at 3:34 the morning of Friday, September 27. May she rest in peace.