Happy Easter, everyone.
As part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), I am taking part in a daily blog post challenge through the BlogHer website. Today’s prompt:
If you could redo one moment in your life, what would it be and why?
How would it change who you are now?
I’m a technology geek. It’s partly a result of working in IT for the last twenty-two years. If you’re not familiar with the keyboard command that is the title of this post, CTRL+Z is how you ‘undo’ a command on most computer applications.
Copied and pasted text into the wrong section of your term paper? CTRL+Z. Deleted the wrong graphic from the presentation that’s due in ninety minutes? CTRL+Z. Realized you applied the wrong formula to your financial spreadsheet? Well, CTRL+Z won’t help you there, but whiskey will.
But in all seriousness, today’s prompt is asking what moment in my life I’d most like to CTRL+Z. I wrote last week that I do not believe in the concept of no regrets. Regrets are healthful experiences that, when you step back and look at the fabric of life, allow us to progress as a civilization. I know that’s a weighty statement, but it’s one I find to be true.
There is nothing wrong with making a mistake so long as we learn from it, and in my life I have made many mistakes and I have lots of regrets. Not every mistake has lead to a Disney-esque lesson learned, and not every regret has been life-altering in the direction of betterment. Still, when I look at the road map of decisions that have brought me to where I am today, I see some glaring moments at which I could’ve been better, as well as some ‘what if’ bubbles that rob me of sleep from time to time.
To deliberately sound cliché, I wouldn’t change any of it.
I am experiencing my current life because of God’s divine grace, and because of the decisions, both good and bad, I made over the years. The pattern being; when I was prayerful and surrendered my burdens to Christ, I was blessed with good decision making. In those times I stepped away from God and tried to do life on my own terms, the bonehead moments were plentiful.
Yet our human nature, one that is sinful and proud, which by extension makes us innately greedy for comfort and ease, enjoys harping on those times in our past that slowly eat away at us. It’s the enemy whispering in our ear, “if only” or “what if.” We can’t undo the past, but God can undo our sins. In fact, He already has through His son Jesus Christ. All we have to do is ask Him to forgive us.
So as easy as it would be to say I wish I could undo that time in my life when I had an affair that cost me my first marriage, I use that experience in order to be a better husband in my current marriage. When I think about how I wish I would have been less hard on my kids, I allow myself to feel pride at how wonderful and respectful my children, now young adults, are. That homeless person I ignored on the street out of some meritless sense of fear? I let it serve as a reminder that fear is not from God and that I should be a badass like Jesus was.
If we could undo those moments that make us feel pain and regret, how could we possibly grow as human beings? And if we had no pain and regret, how could we appreciate the beauty that is the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We put too much focus on the CTRL+Z when we should be putting all our effort into the CTRL+S.
No, this is not a blog about tearing down the local watering hole. (think about it)…..
Rather, this is a spur-of-the-moment, “the Holy Spirit nudged me and told me to write” kinda post.
I just wrapped up my last class of my first semester at Trinity College in Florida. The class was Biblical Ethics, and to conclude the course, we were tasked to write a term paper and make a presentation of the Executive Summary of the paper.
I think most of my classmates did not read the proverbial fine print in the syllabus because what they ended up doing was presenting their paper to the class. As you can imagine, it was quite the mind-numbing experience. Presenter after presenter talking about such ethics class standards as abortion, same sex marriage, and divorce.
To be fair, there were a couple of individuals who were captivating in their presentations, and held my attention from start to finish. Their presentations were authentic and heartfelt. But for most of the three hour session, it was an exercise in, “please, God, please let them wrap up soon” praying.
Now, I know this may come across as a humble-brag type of post, but I am really proud of what I presented and the manner in which I presented. As God would have it, my turn to present – as determined randomly by my professor – came towards the end of class.
I launched my PowerPoint presentation, followed the points laid out in my Executive Summary, and added additional comments as they came to me during my presentation. It was succinct. It was informative. I like to think it was engaging. Based on the louder than average applause from my classmates, I think it was well received.
To be fair to everyone else in my class, I’ve worked in IT pretty much since I graduated from college in 1994. I’ve been with my current employer going on nineteen years now. I am well versed in putting together presentations. Speaking in front of others is easy for me. Tonight’s assignment was very much in my wheelhouse (although I can’t tell you what a wheelhouse is).
My hope is not that others were impressed by me or my presentation. My hope is that they are motivated or challenged to apply the techniques I used in their next presentation. My prayer is they seek a sense of betterment as a student going forward because the were presented with an example of a what clear, concise, and effective presentation looks like. (see aforementioned humble brag)
I would say approximately 80%-90% of what I’ve learned in life I’ve learned by watching others. Observation is our greatest teacher (other than Jesus, of course), and it is in observing others that we learn what to do … and not to do … in certain situations. We see others reset what ‘possible’ means, and we are driven to do better or be better as a result.
The greatest imperative we have as Christ followers is to continuously raise the bar in terms of what it means to be generous, forgiving, understanding, and loving. Being a Christian does not necessarily mean we have the Bible memorized, nor does it mean the Bible always makes sense to us. I think being a Christian means looking at the life Jesus lived, recognizing His is the ultimate example to follow, and understanding no matter how hard we try we’ll never reach that standard.
Still ….. despite our flaws, despite our sinful nature, and despite our inability to be perfect the way Jesus was, we try anyway. We strive towards the standard He set because in doing so, we exercise love, we foster fellowship with others, and we create betterment in our lives.
And I firmly believe it is the pursuit of this betterment, inching closer to God today than we were yesterday, that makes us good and faithful servants in the eyes of the Lord.
“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!'” –Matthew 25:21
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.
Coincidence is just God showing off.
And it was by coincidence about a month ago my wife stumbled across an announcement the venerable and talented Kevin Smith would be conducting one of his famous Q&A sessions at Tampa’s Improv comedy club. In the early stages of our relationship in 2005, Lee and I bonded, in part, because of our mutual love of Kevin Smith and the movies he makes.
“There is no way we’re missing this,” she told me.
“Umm …. I may be in New York on August 12 playing telephone repair man,” I reminded her.
“There’s no way I’m missing this,” she said with a confident, unapologetic smile.
And so this evening my wife and I had our second ‘go out on a school night’ date of the week, and it was amazing.
Kevin Smith is a fantastic story teller. If you let him, he could tell stories for days on end. Tonight’s performance was, by definition, a question and answer forum with the acclaimed writer and director. One would think Smith would cover a wide array of topics and subject matter. He did, but in the two hours allocated, he answered only four questions. That’s how detailed and immersed Kevin gets into telling a story about how or why he did something a certain way.
And through it all – through the foul language and inappropriate subject matter, through the stories of friends maintaining sobriety and fighting off thoughts of suicide, through eye-opening accounts that show the human and real side of celebrities often thought to be divas – the common theme was inspiration.
It was a slap in the face to me, but one I desperately needed.
In my new-found faith journey, one I’ve been traveling for just over six years now, I’ve immersed myself in the writings and teachings of so many men and women of faith. Steven Furtick, Christine Caine, Joel Olsteen, John Eldridge, Joyce Meyer, Craig Groeschel, and, of course, my own pastor Paul Wirth: I’ve learned so much about God and my faith and my relationship with Jesus all because of their words, teachings, and actions.
I am currently reading Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, and it’s not hyperbole when I say the book is transforming my life. Not only am I learning about the power of prayer, I am experiencing it as well. I remember listening to the audio book four weeks ago – yes, I am a slow reader/listener and I don’t do a good job making time to finish the book – and being inspired to pick up a writing project I shelved a year ago. It’s an intimidating project I’ve been avoiding, and I always manage to find a reason to not start it up again. Yet there I was in my car, crying, and feeling Batterson’s words speak to me.
I still haven’t touched the project.
God has enveloped me in kid-glove-like affection and direction by surrounding me with such inspiring and positive works, yet I still find myself in the rut of my own making. I still find myself playing it safe in my comfort zone and ignoring what He’s calling me to do.
And that is why I think God took a different approach with me tonight, one filled with F-bombs and stories of smoking weed on hotel room balconies. There’s no doubt in my mind God put me in the audience of Kevin Smith’s show so I could finally do my part and get back to the keyboard. It worked. Today is August 12 and I hadn’t posted to my blog since July 2.
The writing hiatus stops now.
God does His part to give us joy, accomplishment, and greatness. He delivers every day in a million different ways, yet we fail to listen. We fail to move. We fail to act. We fail to respond. As is the recurring theme in scripture, we fail God while He remains faithful to us.
The failing stops now.
During the Kevin Smith show, we were not allowed to have our phones out at all. This is very understandable, but hinders my affection for tweeting great quotes or ideas as they are said. Thankfully, I was able to capture some of them the old-fashioned, analog way: pen and napkin. Here are some of the tweet-worthy comments from tonight’s show.
<when pursuing a dream> “Push a little fucking whimsy.”
“If you want to get shit done, surround yourself with people who will ask, ‘Why not?'”
“Acting is the lie that tells the truth. It’s the only witchcraft that really exists.”
I think my favorite Kevin Smith quote of the night comes from the idea that we live in a world where people will question your motivation and tell you you can’t do a particular something. They’ll tell you, as an example, you can’t skate or that you’ve never skated before or that skating is for other people and not you. They’ll tell you the ice is thin and give you reason after reason of why you can’t or shouldn’t skate. Yet what we need ….. what we crave …. is someone to look us in the eyes and say, “Skate, bitch!”
In His own crafty way, that’s what God told me tonight. I’ve been watching other people on the ice for so long. Now it’s my turn to lace ’em up, get out there, and skate.
Jesus was the first ever Christmas present. God’s gift to us, Himself in the flesh for the benefit of all humankind. It is something that is often overlooked during the holiday season.
In addition to giving us all His son, God also gives us gifts every day. Individual reminders of His love for us. Calling cards of His affection for us. And unless we’re looking out for them, they usually go unnoticed.
This Christmas, the story of my friend has taken residence in my head. It is a story of a man who, when I met him, was quite a bit away from God. As was I. We both were living with the struggles and challenges of being post-divorce dads, all the while trying to make the most of every moment. Concerts, cruises, road trips, and more booze than I care to admit: it was party first and prayer second, if at all.
I began my reconnect with God in summer of 2009. I found my church home, and gradually began to open my eyes and my heart to His message for me. As time passed, I heard God call me in a direction of ministry, a path on which I could walk to not only grow in Him, but also share His greatness with others.
My friend was, as I like to call it, seeking with uncertainty. He had questions, reservations, and a bad taste in his mouth from previous religious experiences gone bad. Although God had continued to bless him, over and over and over, my friend still kept God at arms length.
With his three children in the midst of adolescence, God gave my friend a fourth child. And with this baby came an opportunity to do things a little differently as a dad. His wife insisted on raising their daughter in the church. My friend was not opposed, but he was also, at first, not an active participant. With time, his heart softened, and he, too, began attending service regularly.
I imagine the conversation between my friend and God went something like this:
God: “I’m calling you, but you keep ignoring me. I’m here for you. I love you. I want you to place your faith in me.”
My Friend: “I’m not sure. I’ve tried this before. There’s so much I don’t understand. Besides, why do you want me? I don’t think I’m the person you think I am.”
God: “I know exactly who you are, and that’s why I love you. That’s why I want you. I’ve been by your side all along. You just haven’t been paying attention.”
My Friend: “But what do you want me to do? I don’t know what it is I am supposed to do.”
God: “All I want you to do is believe in me. To help you with that, I am going to give you a daughter.”
When we first met, my friend and I never spoke about faith. Now, our faith is part of what makes our bond so solid. He is my brother, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him.
God is faithful. God is giving. God is loving. He gives and provides to us on a daily basis. The question is, are we listening? Are we tuned in to what He is saying? Do we realize the gifts he gives us every day, and how it is He wants us to receive and use those gifts?
I hope that as we wind down this Christmas season, and prepare to ramp up for a new year, we do so with the knowledge that every day we live in God is Christmas. He gives to us so we may give to others. Swiss theologian and Catholic priest Hans Urs von Balthasar perhaps said is best, “What you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.”