Project Gratitude – Behind the Scenes

Project Gratitude – Behind the Scenes

Last year, my wife Lee and I were designated (also read as ‘volunteered’) to be the Mission Team coordinators for our church. Part of the reason is because I participated in three mission trips since January of 2015 and Lee participated in four. Also, Lee and I plan to transition to full-time mission work in the next several years, so managing the logistics and financials for our church’s mission work is good on-the-job training.

OJT

I wish I could say the preparation and planning is a true team effort, but that would not be fair to Lee. She’s the brains AND mental brawn that makes everything come together.

Lee has been the person working with our point of contact at SCORE, International making sure contracts are signed, medical release forms are submitted, etc. She was also the person coordinating with the facility director in the Dominican Republic regarding the supplies we’ll need on site for the project work. Lee has established a process for coordinating with our church’s finance director to ensure everything gets paid. Lee even took the time and booked every flight for every individual taking part in the trips.

Lee's happy plays is managing chaos.
Lee’s happy plays is managing chaos.

As an added wrinkle, we’re sending supplies down to the D.R. in advance of our trip. Lee figured out the process for working with a freight forwarder, establishing our church as a designated shipper with that company, and making sure everything was in order for pickup by the shipping company. As a result, our table saws and work benches are now on their way to Santo Domingo.

Although we still have some final details to complete, it’s no exaggeration to say these trips would not be happening if not for the diligence and hard work of my wife. My role in all of this has been supporting at best, and although I know there are a ton of little things that happened today for which I am grateful, I have to reserve today’s post for the gratitude I have for my wife. She is my friend, my partner, my confidant, my guide, and so much more.

I have this line I like to use when describing my wife. I am nothing without her and everything because of her. I thank God for the blessing it is to be married to such a wonderful woman.

glee

Persevering Through Him and For Him

Persevering Through Him and For Him

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:

Which one of the Beatitudes is most meaningful to you and why? 


In the spirit of full disclosure, this is not the prompt for November 7 for #NaBloPoMo16. Today’s prompt (What was your worst Thanksgiving food fail?) was a bit on the yawn side, so my wife Lee and I decided to go with our own prompt for our blog posts.

Lee and I started on our respective faith walks together back in 2009. One week after getting married, we began attending Relevant Church in Tampa. Relevant has been our home ever since, and I cannot properly express how much each of us have grown over the last seven years.

Walking in faith and with Christ has transformed our lives. It’s changed the way we give, the way we vacation, and it’s most definitely changed the way we plan for the future (Lee and I hope to transition to full-time mission work in the next three to four years). As someone whose been blogging since 2004, my faith has also changed the way I write.

So it was no surprise when Lee suggested we write about the Beatitudes. Writing in a non-secular arena has become second nature to both of us, and it allows us to explore our relationship with Christ from a different perspective. It’s one thing to share your faith story with someone verbally. After all, we all speak in rough draft. But when you’re writing, you have the ability to edit, research, ponder, and – when you’re really stuck – delete.

delete-button

I love writing about my faith, and I see it as a part of my current vocation. I view it as an opportunity to use the gift God has given me as a writer to bring glory to Him and to bring others closer to Christ. I can only pray that someone who is seeking His love and mercy may stumble across my blog and use it as a vehicle to grow closer to God.

But written ministry is not always about ‘Likes’ and positive feedback in the comments section. There is an inherent risk of not applying sound theology in my work. There is a risk of alienating someone because my understanding and belief in Scripture contradicts their personal worldview. From a broader perspective, there is always a risk in sharing Christ with others because there are so many questions people may have, so many arguments skeptics may make, and so many allusions cynics may cast. In layman’s terms, it ain’t always easy.

It’s not supposed to be easy.

We are called to press forward in faith. We are called not only to step, but to leap out of our comfort zones for the benefits of others. We’re called to go out on a limb for Christ because he suffered and died on a limb for us.

Dealing with people who for whatever reasons reject God and belief and religion can, at best, be awkward and clumsy. At worst, it can be downright painful. As an example, my wife and I struggled to answer this simple question early in our faith walk:

“You mean if I live a good life and am a good person, that’s not enough to get into Heaven?”

Lee and I knew what the right answer is (it’s no, by the way*), but we didn’t know how to properly communicate it. We weren’t well versed in Scripture (we still aren’t really; it’s a daily process), and we fumbled our way through a conversation that quickly evolved into an argument. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant, and at the end of it all we lost a friendship. Still, we knew in our hearts we wanted to/needed to stay true to His Word, and we used that experience as a foundation to work and be better prepared for the next tough question that was sure to come.

In the three and a half years since that moment, I like to think we’ve stayed true to that commitment. So when I read the Beatitudes and get to the eighth and final one – Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – it strikes a chord in my heart. Part of evangelizing the Word God is giving the love and then taking the lumps others may give in return.

It’s not supposed to be easy, but it does get a little easier every time.

 

*I firmly believe it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we are granted salvation. This is repeated throughout Scripture.
     John 3:16
     John 14:6
Acts 16:30-31
Romans 6:23
Romans 10:9-10
Ephesians 2:8-9


nablopomo

UpLIFTed: Pt. 1

To say the music of Sister Hazel has changed my life would be an understatement. The genesis of the life I’ve lived since 2003 is rooted in their music, as well as in the community of the band’s fans known as the Hazelnuts. As I continue to come across milestones that represent the passing of the last decade, I would be remiss in not mentioning the influence of Sister Hazel in my life these past ten years. And in joining my wife’s current blogging project, I think I will take the next 3o days to write about the awesomeness that is Sister Hazel.

I have a very special connection to the band’s fifth studio album Lift. It was released ten days before my dad died, and at a time when my life was unraveling. There was so much anxiety, uncertainty, and pain in my life in the late Summer of 2004, one of the few solaces I had was diving into each song on the CD. Many of the tracks would resonate with me, some immediately, some over the following year.

I played it on repeat on my drive from Tampa to Miami before my dad’s passing. I listened to it incessantly as I was working on his eulogy. I still listen to it today when I need ….. well, a Lift in my day.

Lift

One of the songs that has left a tattoo on my soul is Lay It Down. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve come to appreciate the subtle spirituality of this song. To me, it’s a reminder of surrendering the burdens we carry, and letting go of the weight that holds us down. All too often we try to put on a strong face for others, when all we’re really doing is living in the white lie of the moment. It has been my experience that truth really does set you free. Only when we embrace the truth, and deal with the realities of life head on, can we allow ourselves to live to the fullest.

My (mis)adventures of 2005 brought this sentiment around full circle, and Lay It Down has become part of the foundation on which God has put me back together and built a ‘better me’. (that’s a tease of the next post)

If you’re not familiar with the song, I hope you will take a moment to give it a listen and allow it to be a positive beacon in your life the way it has been in mine.

“Lay It Down”

You need a little makeup dear
To cover up all your stains
With another trick right here, yeah
You fool them all once again

You need a little emptiness
Before you know what is real
And take a little taste of wine, yeah
To give yourself half a chance

And when you’re weak of holding on
Release your wayward soul

And with these treasures you have found
The broken pieces of your crown
It’s time to lay your cross on down

(Lay it down)
And with this kingdom you have now
It’s time to lay your cross on down
You better lay it down

You carry in a bright white lie
To cover up all your shame
You’re gonna have to testify
To color in all your claims

And when you’re weak of holding on
Release your wayward soul and
Spend your days not falling down
Before your empty idols
[Chorus]

Lay it down
(Lay it down)
Chorus

Feet on the Ground

There are so many things that come to mind when I think about the word Mission. I think of an elite group of soldiers making their way through a South American jungle, en route to a specific location. I think of wordy statements corporations place on their websites, most of which go ignored by the companies’ employees. I think of a style of architecture popular in the Southwest.

…and yes, I think of Ethan Hunt precariously dangling from a cable in a sound and temperature sensitive computer room.

You've got the theme song stuck in your head now, don't you?
You’ve got the theme song stuck in your head now, don’t you?

But for the purpose of this particular post, my mission is to set you on a mission to help us take part in a mission trip.

In January, my wife and I will be joining other members of our church family in the Dominican Republic as part of a faith mission trip through Relevant Church. We’ve always wanted to be a part of a mission team, helping others in need, and Kingdom building here on Earth. Now we have a chance to do it, to be ‘feet on the ground’, and the part of something so much greater than we could offer as individuals.

But we need your help to get there.

We have a very modest goal of $2000. This will provide for the both of us to take part in the mission trip, and also covers our travel to the Dominican Republic and accommodations while we’re there.

If you’re interested in sponsoring us, Lee and I have set up a GoFundMe fundraising page at www.gofundme.com/gileeDR. Please note all donations made through our GFM page go directly to Relevant Church (we don’t hold any funds). If you prefer, you can donate directly through Relevant Church at bit.ly/Relevant_DR. And if you consider yourself old school, you can send a check, made payable to Relevant Church, to 1704 N. 16th St. Tampa, FL 33605. (Please be sure to include a note stating the donation is for Gil and Lee).

If you’re in a position where you can’t support us financially, you can still help us out by keeping us in your prayers. Additionally, you can share this post with your friends, as well as online via Facebook, Twitter, etc. Lee and I are blessed to have such a wonderful network of family, friends, and peers, and even if a small percentage of that network donated just $5 each, we’d easily reach our goal.

We want to thank you in advance for your time, generosity, and prayers. We hope we can be a reflection of your love and inspiration to those most in need in the Dominican Republic.

DR Mission Trip
Please help us reach our goal so we can be a part of something great for His Kingdom and His glory.

A Belated Love Letter

Sometimes life – and laziness – tend to get in the way. I noticed that when I came to the realization I had not posted to my blog since the 13th. Ugh. So much for me writing every day.

Still, there are times when the ability to sit at the keyboard and put together a post just isn’t feasible. Yard work needs to get done, kids need to be shuttled to events, beer needs to be consumed with friends. And sometimes, the routine just needs to make way for something special.

It was nine years ago on the 15th of February that I first met my wife Lee. It was at a blind date at Lee Roy Selmon’s restaurant in New Tampa (I know, I’ve got super-style, right?). I still remember being nervous as I spoke to my friend on the phone as I waited for her to arrive. I remember the confident smile on her face as she introduced herself. I remember going home that night with a sense of ‘Wow!”, and looking forward to the next time I’d see her again.

Since we met on the 15th of February – the day after Valentine’s Day – Lee and I refer to that date as our Valenversary. It’s worked out for us since we don’t have the pressure of trying to do something for Valentine’s Day knowing we’ll be going out to dinner, or doing something special, the following evening. As Lee and I enjoyed our Valenversary dinner Saturday night, I made the comment that our first date felt like a lifetime ago. She looked up from her plate, smiled coyly, and replied, “That’s because it has been. We’ve lived a lifetime’s worth of experiences these past nine years.”

And she was right. It’s such a blessing to be able to rattle off the laundry list of cool things we’ve done since we met. In 2006 we were introduced to our ‘music family’, the people that make up our close circle of friends with whom we’ve shared so many experiences. We’ve been to so many music concerts and live shows, it’s nearly impossible to list them all. We’ve traveled for music festivals, and have gotten to meet and hang out with some very cool performers. We’ve been on six Rock Boats, as well as two other Sixthman cruises (Zac Brown and Elvis).

In 2008, Lee and I traveled to Costa Rica and had a week of jungle experiences. We paired that with a trip to Mexico for a relaxing stay at an all-inclusive resort. We loved it so much, we bought into their vacation package and have stayed with them several times since (we were married at the Palace resort on Isla Mujeres in 2009).

We’ve connected with the social media community in Tampa. That has allowed us to meet so many fascinating people, one of which is Mama Lucy who is transforming the lives of children in Tanzania.

Lee and I have found our spiritual home in Relevant Church, and we’ve been able to share and celebrate our faith together, despite our very different religious backgrounds.

And through it all, the most amazing part is the transformation I’ve experienced because of Lee. To say she saved my life is an understatement. She was an angel sent to me when I needed it most. She opened my eyes to what great love looks like. She’s challenged me to be a better man, a stronger husband, and a vessel for God’s work here on earth. Although it took me some time to realize it, she’s been exactly what I needed in my life.

No, we’re not perfect. We argue and fight, and we get on each other’s nerves from time to time. Still, sharing my life with Lee has taught me those disruptions are just that; disruptions. Brief, momentary hiccups that don’t come close to comparing to the mountainous joy we otherwise share on a regular basis.

These past nine years have been spectacular, and I am giddy at the thought of what forever after has in store for us.

Reflections and Projections: A Look Back and Ahead

I don’t want this to be another typical New Year’s Day blog, full of resolutions forgotten by February or empty promises I make to myself. I also don’t want this to be a long diatribe year-in-review of 2013, either.

So, instead, I think I am just going to use this post as a sort of mental scrapbook for all the awesome things Lee and I were able to share in 2013, and as a wish-list of what we want to do in 2014. The central theme: gratitude. Yes, Lee and I had some tough moments last year, but they all pail in comparison to the plethora of blessings we were given.

So as we look forward to the year ahead, most of us with the clean-slate optimism of “this is my year to be great”, keep in mind the following:

  • You ARE great.
  • There is no such thing as perfection. All we can hope to do is be better today than we were yesterday.
  • “Be happy in the moment. That’s enough. Each moment is all we need. Not more.” – Mother Teresa

2013 Gratitude List

My Kids
  • Natalie’s continued success with club and middle school soccer
  • Daniel’s participation in Odyssey of the Mind and Math Bowl
  • Daniel attending Camp Gilead and Busch Gardens Camp
  • Chaperoning Natalie to Howl O’Scream
  • Kids spending the week with us over the summer and then again while their mom was traveling
  • Cheering on Wiregrass High School girls basketball with Natalie
  • Their overall good health and well being
Church / Faith
Music Concerts
Friends
  • My 40th birthday celebration
  • Beer nights with the guys
  • Weddings (Patricia & Adam, Tracey & Matt, Leslie Ann & Graham, Stacey & Sanjay)
  • Leigh S. moving back to Florida
  • Dinner nights (Jeff & Ellen, George & Ashley, Stephen & Lindsey, Warren & Gwen, Mark & Renee, Alyson & Tom, Jamie & Jamey, Jeff & Lindsey)
  • Super Bowl and college football parties
  • East coast trips to Casa de Smith
Lee

I am probably overlooking several events and people, and for that I am sorry. I guess it’s a good problem to have when your life is so full of blessings that it’s hard to keep track of them all.

As for 2014, Lee and I have some very lofty financial and lifestyle goals. We want to reduce debt by sticking to a strict budget, and also lose weight by trying the Fast Metabolism Diet. Both will take a serious amount of discipline and determination, but they work hand-in-hand given we spent about three times as much going out to dinner in 2013 than we did on groceries.

We also plan/hope to take Lee’s nephew to Cancun when he graduates from high school in May, and then travel back to Mexico in the late summer to visit my family in Puebla and spread my father’s ashes in his hometown. It will be 10 years in September that my father passed away.

Personally, I want to ensure one post to my blog per day. That’s not to say I will be writing every day. Rather, I want to make sure I add something – be it a written post, a photo, a funny YouTube video: something – to my blog every day.

Through it all, Lee and I know that God will direct us where He wants us to go. I know my faith walk saw amazing growth in 2013, and I pray that it continues to expand in this new year. I wish you all the best with your goals, dreams, and ambitions for this year.

“For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

Blessings

041/365 My Inspiration

I normally wait until the end of the day to post my daily photoblog. After all, it’s supposed to serve as a pseudo-diary for what I did today. Today, however, I need to make an exception because I don’t think anything else that happens later will be more awesome than this.

As you may know, Lee and I, along with our dear friend Lindsey, have an ongoing writing project called Random Writers. The genesis of the project was something we could do to write with greater frequency and to use our words and ideas to positively impact the world. Keep in mind, Lee has only been writing/blogging since January 2011, and she was terrified at first of the idea of keeping a blog.

I told her that if her words, stories, and voice could positively impact just one person then it would all be worth it. Well, here is a comment she received this morning on her most recent blog post.

“Thanks for inspiring me to be a better version of myself by lighting the path ahead of me.”

I am continued to be blown away by how revealingly honest and pure my wife’s voice is when she writes. She will tell you I am the writer in the family. I will tell you she is the difference maker, both in my life and the lives of others.

It’s great to wake up every morning next to my muse.

#blessings!