Remembering Terry

Remembering Terry

There are few things in life more comforting than certainty. There is no event more requiring of comfort than death.

Losing a loved one is never easy. Whether their passing was sudden or at the end of a long and arduous battle with illness and declining health, we are never really ready to say goodbye. And it’s with heartfelt sadness that we say goodbye to Uncle Terry. More than just a patriarch for the family. More than just a farmer in the fields of Alabama. More than just a career lineman for the phone company. Coleman Terry Walker was, first and foremost, a man after God’s heart.

Terry was a father figure to me. I met him two years after my dad passed away in 2004, and I soon came to realize he was the stately male influence I needed in my adult life. Through his anecdotal charm and spiritually influenced example, Terry was the compass that helped direct me in my late thirties and through my forties towards a true North. The man I knew was the embodiment of compassion and kindness, ever listening to what you had to say, but forever steadfast in his principles and love of Scripture.

Strong but not overbearing, supportive but not one to coddle, Terry’s demeanor was an even keel in the turbulence of life. Even in the midst of the most unspeakable of tragedies, Terry anchored a family’s grief because he himself was anchored in the Word of God.

In this time of sadness, we all take comfort in the certainty that Terry is in the presence of our Lord and Savior. There is no doubt. We are all filled with the assurance he is face to face with the creator of the universe, Terry’s “aw-shucks” grin bigger than it’s ever been. This certainty is a comfort that ever so briefly expels our pain and our sorrow, and it’s a comfort to which we cling with every ounce of our being as we struggle to say goodbye to such an indelible man.

The cliché is true: God really did break the mold when He made Terry.

And as we struggle to hold back the tears, we smile at the idea of a grandfather, a man taken in the twilight of a life well-lived, reunited with his granddaughter who was called home in the early dawn of hers. May the joy of their reunion overcome the sadness in our own hearts.

Yo, Taxi

Yo, Taxi

Being “in-between careers” means having some extra time on your hands. Lots and lots of extra time.

I knew this going into the decision of stepping away from my previous employer. There would be a runway from the time I resigned until the next gig occurs, be it with another company or in the arena of self-employment. The blessing, in my case, is that the runway is rather long.

So as my wife and I dove into some of the details of this transition period, one thing that became evident was my role as chauffeur to her mom. To provide context, Lee’s work is 100% remote and provides great flexibility. So whenever my mother-in-law Patsy would have a doctor’s appointment, etc., Lee would take her because I was usually at work.

With the change in that dynamic, it only makes sense for me to be the one to take Patsy wherever she needs to go or run any errands she needs to be completed. When Lee would do it, it was obviously off the clock. For me now, there is no clock.

And I do so with pleasure. First of all, Lee has been very supportive of my decision to do something different, and it’s wonderful to be able to sit with her, plan with her, and have her help with the execution of our plans. More importantly, Patsy does so much for us on a daily basis, the least I can do is provide loving support in return.

I will admit there are times when I do not feel like stopping what I am doing to run my mother-in-law to an appointment (that Play Station isn’t going to play itself, after all), but it is a blessing to share time with Patsy and be someone on which she can rely.

After all, no one likes being left out in the cold when they have somewhere they need to be.

ICE, ICE, Baby

ICE, ICE, Baby

This past week has taken me to Tampa, Miami, Valdosta, and back home to Dothan. In all, I drove over 1400 miles and spent over 20 hours behind the wheel. I’m pretty sure I’ll be sleeping in tomorrow.

Yet when I think about this trip and how unnecessarily inefficient it was, I feel blessed in knowing this trip was also about me being with my people.

When you look on my phone and the individuals listed on my ICE list (in case of emergency), these are the people I got to see and share time with on this trip. These are the people that make up my inner circle. These are the people that matter to me most.

It was the person who called me and allowed me to pray and cry with him when he was diagnosed with cancer. It was his wife who inspired my faith by making her daughter’s relationship with Christ a priority. It was the friend with whom I jumped out of an airplane. It was her husband who continually challenges me to find ways to serve others. It was my ex-wife who taught me about forgiveness. It was the daughter she and I share that taught me about what’s truly important. It was my brother who continues to model what family is all about.

And I got to come home to my wife, the person who is my best friend and partner in everything I do.


I like to think I’ve done well in my life. Not perfect by any stretch, but very blessed to have had a well-paying career, provided for my children, taken steps in my faith life, and hopefully making a positive impact along the way.

But when it comes to considering myself successful, I will defer to Mark Batterson‘s definition.

Stay On Target

I was supposed to be in Miami today. The plan was for me to drive down early, meet up with my brother at the bank, sign some paperwork, and drive back to Tampa.

But Mother Nature had other plans, specifically a Tropical Storm with bands of rain and wind gusts of 65 miles per hour. I made the call early to stay put and make the drive to Miami on Tuesday.

And then I made a call to my daughter so we could share the day together.

It started at Target. We weren’t so much shopping as we were just passing the time together catching up on life. This Target in Wesley Chapel, Florida, has been renovated and looks nothing like the Target it was when it was first built. For my daughter’s entire lifetime, that Target has existed. And just as the store has become something different with new paint and an updated layout, my daughter has grown and flourished in her twenty-one years, both evolving into something bigger and better.

I think about all the hours (and dollars) spent in this store, and so much of it feels like a lifetime ago.

Two lifetimes ago.

But I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than in that moment with my daughter – my adult daughter – no longer talking as parent/child but rather as friends. Just two adults shooting the ____, enjoying each other’s company.

A complete blessing.

We wrapped up the afternoon with a visit to the veterinarian for her dog Jax. It was time for his shots and, again, it was a joy to be there with my daughter just doing everyday adulting stuff.

I still need to go to Miami. I still need to take care of my business. But for one day, it was so great to not have to ‘do’ anything or necessarily ‘be’ anywhere. No work, no worries, no complaints.

It was one of the best days ever.

The role of Jax will be played by Dax.

Doing the Heavy Lifting

Doing the Heavy Lifting

Death is never easy. The death of a parent even less so.

When my mother passed away in August, my focus was on logistics. I had to make arrangements to drive from Dothan, Alabama, to Miami (580 miles), stay at a hotel, and factor in picking up AND dropping off my kids along the way. My priorities were internal and as a natural problem solver, the overall task was not very hard.

All the details, however, regarding the viewing, memorial Mass, and burial were handled by my brother. As a function of him living in Miami, it made sense for him to grab those tasks by the reigns and manage them. What I didn’t anticipate, though, are the countless hours he’s spent in post-burial administration.

We decided to sell my mother’s house and property, and given my mother had established a trust, the specifics of that real estate deal needed to flow through the trust. As did the coordination of beneficiary payments for the few financial holdings my mother possessed. Long story short, it’s been a ton of paperwork, an avalanche of phone calls, and miles and miles of driving to and fro for my big bro.

It’s easy to sit here one state away (although given Florida’s length, it may as well be four states away) and respond to an email on occasion and perhaps field a phone call from an attorney. What is insanely difficult is balancing a full-time job, a household that includes a high-schooler and college student, and Miami traffic while trying to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s of this administrative endeavor.

It’s insane and unfair.

Yet through it all, my brother has not complained and has really stepped up to resolve all the issues along the way. He’s been so on top of this the only word that comes to mind is heroic.

My brother turned fifty this year and our relationship over the past decade was weakened by distance, complacency, and a lot of thick-headedness (mostly mine). However, my mom’s passing has brought us closer, and I feel blessed to feel the admiration I do for my brother. It motivates me to be better ands more intentional with the guy who was my best friend growing up.


Lenny,

God renews us with His love, and I am so glad he’s given us an opportunity to renew our relationship together. Thank you for all you’ve done. Thank you for all you do. And thank you for being my big brother. I love you.

At the End of the Day

At the End of the Day

Can someone’s death be a good thing?

Can my mother’s death be a good thing?

It was early September and we were gathered around the dinner table at my brother’s house in Miami. My family – cousins, sister-in-law, brother, wife – had spent the previous forty-eight hours mourning the sudden and unexpected passing of my mother. And following a viewing and a Mass, it was time to do what Cubans do and reminisce on the days of old.

From my perspective, it was a glorious childhood. My maternal grandparents had five children. Each of them had two children. We were a clan of ten cousins and I was the penultimate, only four years older than the youngest. For the most part, we’d met every Friday night at my grandparents’ house. Games of tag gave way to movie nights and sleepovers, and even though we were mostly disparate, we were there for each other.

There were varying ages and personalities. The older cousins were trailblazers and made a lot of things possible for me. I learned so much from watching them and listening to them. When I look back at the failures in my life, I think I would’ve been better served had I chosen to listen a little more.

But that glorious childhood succumbed to the passage of time, college years, marriages, and, eventually, kids of our own. We all grew up and went on with our lives, and in many ways, there was never a sense of closure on that period of our lives. It just went away.

So there we were, gathered around the table, the tension as thick as mud. For me at least, anyway.

When I think about it now, I realize how silly it was. How silly it was for me to let years – over a decade – pass and watch what once was robust and loving relationships dangle in the proverbial wind. I didn’t care to call. I didn’t bother to text. Why? It’s almost too embarrassing to admit out loud, but the truth is a simple one:

Politics.

Millions of Americans will take to the polls on Tuesday and cast their vote for President of the United States. Millions of Americans have already done so with early voting periods and absentee ballets. We are privileged to live in a country where we have the opportunity to participate in democracy, and if you’re eligible to vote, I hope you exercise that right and make your voice heard.

And it’s okay to be passionate about your causes. It’s one of the things that makes us great as a country. The diversity of opinion, the resonance of debate, the emergence of new ideas; all these things reach deep into the foundation on which America was built. The problem emerges when we let these passions divide us. And that is exactly what I realized I had done with my family. I let my personal ideology cloud and come before the literal life-long relationships I shared with my cousins … as well as the relationship I shared with my brother.

As a Christ-follower, I see now how awful that is. It took time and reflection for me to get to this realization. It also took listening to Andy Stanley’s message series Talking Points for this to really hit home.


“Your political candidate will win or lose based on how the citizens of the United States vote on a single Tuesday in November. But the church wins or loses, the community wins or loses, in some way our nation wins or loses, based on how we treat each other and love each other and love our world every single day between now and then. Disagree politically, but love unconditionally, and pray for unity.” – Andy Stanley


I failed at doing this. Failed miserably.

But there we were, huddled in a room, united by blood and marriage, all coming together to clear the air, bury the hatchet, and reset among ourselves. And through tears and through the realization of my own selfish and arrogant thinking, I told them this, “Regardless of who you vote for on November 3, I will still love you.”

For me, at least, it was a powerful and emotional moment, one that capped off a very emotional forty-eight hours. And we all would not have been there if not for the sudden and unexpected passing of my mother.

Can someone’s death be a good thing? As my mother loved to say, “No hay mal que por bien no venga.”

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.

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).

Pepe
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!

 

Pepe.jpg
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.