On The Surface

On The Surface

“It’s all good.”

All too often that phrase is espoused as a posture to deflect or avoid conflict. Rather than confront conflict and manage it, the passive route is taken because it is the easiest one to take.

I was raised a cradle Catholic. Born into a Catholic family, I was baptized at the age of one and I attended Catholic school from K-12. In the span of that time, I did it all with regards to Catholic traditions. Alter boy, lector, eucharistic minister; I was so involved in my faith my aunt was convinced I was on my way to seminary.

Then I went away to college, making the leap from living in a Cuban-American bubble in Miami to the jazzy streets of New Orleans. To say my time at Tulane University was a culture shock is an understatement. To say I made the most of my first experience living away from home would be even more so.

Part of the freedom that came with living on campus and being on my own was deciding for myself if I was going to make an effort to attend Mass on Sunday mornings. When your Saturday nights consist of Bourbon Street, beignets, and beer chasers, there’s not much other than sleep that makes the priority list for Sundays. You could say my first year in New Orleans was like a Will Hoge song. Although I did celebrate my faith on occasion, the consistency and intentionality was nothing compared to what I exercised in high school.

Fast-forward fifteen years. I was recently separated from my wife and trying to do the best I could in a co-parenting situation. My daughter had completed her first communion and now I was sitting through the Parish-mandated parent meeting – again – in preparation for my son’s sacramental experience. The person conducting the training/meeting told a story about how she recently had an argument with her husband, she realized she was in the wrong, and when she went to bed that night, she kept her back to her husband in order to, “save face.”

Save face.

It was as if a switch had been flipped in my head. All of a sudden I found myself looking around the room and coming to the realization I didn’t know anyone there. Sure, I had said hello to them in the pews and perhaps greeted them out of obligation at the local Publix, but I didn’t know anyone in that room. I had never invited anyone over for dinner. There was no sense of fellowship with any of the other parents. From my perspective, I was not in community with any of the people at my church.

Wait. What did she say? ‘Save face’?” I replayed that phrase over and over in my head. I tuned out everything else she said and focused on the egregious and theologically flawed idea that the best way to handle conflict with your spouse, especially when you’re at fault, is to not seek reconciliation and basically lie through omission. There we were sitting in the house of God, a God who grants us mercy and forgiveness when we don’t deserve either, and the message being conveyed was, “just pretend it’s all good.”

I left that day and never returned. For me, that was the day I stopped being Catholic.

Three years later I found myself re-married and walking through the doors of a non-denominational Christian church for the first time. It was a first step in finding a way for my wife, who was raised Southern Baptist, and me to celebrate our love of God together. I maintain in all that time I never had a crisis of faith but rather a crisis of church. And it was at that church that I learned it’s not about what I do (salvation through works), but rather what’s been done for me (we are saved by grace through faith).

It was there that my eyes were opened to what being a part of a church community meant. It was there that I learned the importance of participating in my faith and getting involved with the other members of my church. It was there that I truly learned the more we serve, the more we grow in Christ. It was there that I first experienced real, authentic, ugly, gritty, tear-jerking, uncomfortable, thought-provoking, heart-expanding relationships, all of them bookmarked by the love and grace of Christ.

Gone were the facades. Gone were the pretenses. Gone were the ideas that having it all together and ‘saving face’ were things to be celebrated. It wasn’t “all good,” but at the same time, the experiences and new relationships were all so very, very good.

We serve a real God who loves us and wants us to be joy-filled in all we do. Despite our pasts, in light of our flaws, and because of our imperfections, He loves us. And it’s been my experience the more honest we are with ourselves, the more we can really plug into a relationship with Him.

You see, once you accept that God cherishes you just the way you are, there’s no need to make others think you’re something you’re not. Once we pivot from doing things for our benefit to doing things for His glory, then can we say with confidence, “It’s all good.”

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.Galatians 1:10 NLT


101/365 Suck It

That title is directed to the negative forces that tried to knock me off my rock today.

As I’ve mentioned before, the growth group Lee and are leading is studying the book The 4:8 Principle. The core of the message is to focus our thoughts on all things that merit praise, and to not dwell on the negatives.

Well, the negatives began this afternoon when I noticed one of our cats had tinkled on the kitchen counter for some reason. “Breathe, Gil. Relax. Just clean it up and move on.” That was me employing my 4:8.

I wiped up the pee and searched underneath the sink for the cleaner/sanitizer. If you’re like me, then you can appreciate the cluster *bleep* the ‘under the sink’ can be. As I reached for bottle after bottle, I noticed some of them were wet.

{insert ‘Oh Shit!’ moment here}

The good news is it was not a leak from the plumbing or anything like that. But the hose on my faucet was leaking and had the whole under-sink area flooded.

“Stay calm, Gil. You can handle this.”

At first I thought I’d have to get a whole new faucet, but upon further inspection, I realized I just needed to replace the hose (difference between $100 and $10).

Still, I had all this water underneath my sink to deal with. My super awesome neighbor Brad lent me his wet vac, but since I had to take my daughter to practice, clearing out the water would have to wait.

I drop off my daughter and head over to the Home Depot in Wesley Chapel (not the one I normally go to by my house). I find the replacement hose for my faucet, and as I go to check out what do I see? A brand new Ridgid wet vac (out of box floor model) on sale for $50.

See? Staying positive and employing the 4:8 principle does lead to increased joy.


067/365 Focus on the Joy

After a long – and somewhat brutal – day at work, I thought it was going to be tough to go to my growth group and lead the discussion. But then I remembered that all I had to do was focus on the joy, and just like that, while sitting in traffic, God reminded me of where my mind needed to be.

Philippians 4:8
New Living Translation (NLT)

8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.