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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.