2018 – What a Year

2018 – What a Year

This is where I start.

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A year ago today was my last full day of work with Verizon. After twenty-one years with the company, God had decided it was time for me to go in a new direction. And what a completely different direction it was!

In quick summary, we made the decision to go into the mission field, helped my mother-in-law move from our house to her new place in Alabama, visited the children’s home we’d be serving, got our house ready to be listed for sale, got rid of the last of our furniture, moved to Georgia, I almost died (slight hyperbole), I completed a solo site visit to the D.R., we finally sold our house, we spent most of June saying goodbye to everyone, and we moved to the D.R. in July. (A recap of our first two months in D.R. can be found here.)

2018 also saw me be ordained by my home church (Relevant Church) in Tampa, and had me mourning the passing of my aunt in Miami and my uncle in Puebla, Mexico. Lee and I were also blessed to be able to come home in September for her nephew’s wedding and to catch up with family and friends.

But then things went proverbially sideways with our mission life in the D.R., and after much soul-searching and wrestling with God, we made the decision to resign and come home.

It was four weeks ago today we boarded a flight to come back to the States. It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least, since we’ve returned. Reconnecting with family and friends has been good for our souls, and there is the deilghtful, romantic notion of living like gypsies, bouncing among AirBNB’s and guest rooms at friends’ homes. But my heart still hurts from experiencing a dream die and having to say goodbye to so many people that I came to love so much.

I keep mentioning in conversations with others that Lee and I failed as missionaries. Even though we did a lot of good work in the five brief months we lived in Samaná, the fact we are no longer there is, in my opinion, indicative of the fact we did not succeed in realizing our dream. Yet I know we can only grow from this experience and use what we’ve learned to do bigger and better things in the next chapter of our lives. I am very much leaning on the wise words of Ray Dalio:

Having stepped out in obedience by selling everything and going into the mission field has us now in a very unique place to be very flexible for whatever – and wherever – God has in store for us. We don’t know what that is. Lee and I are praying an opportunity in ministry will present itself, but as of right now we remain proverbially homeless and unemployed.

Still, we know God will provide as He did through every day and every event of this past year. We are not worried. We are not panicked. We are confident because we worship a faithful and loving God. And as I mentioned in the closing of my Facebook post from last year: God is Great!

“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.”Romans 12:12 NLT

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A Daughter’s Love

A Daughter’s Love

My father died in 2004. I was thirty-two years old and lost in the pain and confusion of the end of my marriage. So much so I kept it a secret from my dad in his dying days. I had arrived at a point in my life where my father was more a friend and less a parent. He was someone I could call to work out a DIY issue or talk about the Dolphins’ game. He was my bud, and after a two-year battle with Cancer, he was gone.

My relationship with my mother has always been more formal. I love her to death, but our personalities don’t exactly mesh. She – inadvertently – pushes my buttons. I – rather predictably – lose my cool. It’s a relationship that is made better by geographic distance.

I honestly do wish I could turn the corner and make my relationship with my mom a better one. I wish I could have conversations with her like I used to with my dad, and with my impending move to the Dominican Republic, it’s going to be interesting how our relationship will manage with an even greater distance between us.

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It’s for this reason I am in awe of my friend Kim Randall and the persistent determination and fight she’s maintained regarding her mother’s health issues. Kim’s mom Carol has been in the hospital since November of 2017. Diagnosed with a tumor and having to undergo an amputation, the last six months for Carol have been painful, grueling, and exhausting. It’s been no different for Kim who has been by her mother’s side since day one.

Kim has been an unrelenting advocate for her mother’s best interest in terms of current healthcare needs and future healthcare plans. Kim has fought through bureaucracy, policy limits, and administrative mistakes on the part of healthcare providers. Through the days that became weeks that became months, Kim has devoted her energies to ensuring her mother is properly cared for, all the while still working to meet the needs of her customers and her business.

I know for many people, what Kim has done and continued to do for her mom is common sense. I know we each should be fiercely committed to the well being of our parents, and I like to think I would do the same for my mom. Still, there is something ‘above and beyond’ I see with Kim. The way she honors her mother with all she does leaves me in sheer amazement. It’s heartwarming. It’s inspiring. It’s standard-setting.

Unfortunately, it’s not without heartache. There is a new hurdle Kim and Carol need to overcome, and it’s pursuing advanced care in St. Louis. To excerpt from Kim’s post on Facebook:

As y’all know this has been a long, bumpy, & downright terrifying road that seems to never end. The next path she needs to take is one that leads her to St. Louis to be treated inpatient at Saint Louis University Cancer Center for cancer treatment.

Yesterday we were told that her cancer is a stage 4b endometrial adenocarcinoma. The treatment she needs is unavailable here in Tampa, we don’t know why facilities here haven’t accepted her, but we are grateful that we have found one that will.

The Struggle: She requires medical transport with the maximum cost of $15,000. It might be more, might be a little less. We have been trying every avenue to come up with this on our own, but it is impossible to find this kind of money as quickly as we need it.

So with that, I’d like to share the GoFundMe page Kim has set up for her mother, and I invite you to contribute to this fundraiser. I understand there are many people who have varying needs, and it’s easy to get lost in the notion that everyone is asking for money. However, if you’re reading this, it’s likely you can forego a Starbucks visit and chip in $5. Perhaps you skip a visit to Chik-fil-A and pitch in $10. These dollar amounts seem small, but when multiplied over and over they add up quickly.

Please keep Carol Randall in your prayers and do your part in sharing the GFM page with your circle of friends. It’s my prayer Kim’s love for her mother be rewarded by seeing her mom get to St. Louis and receive the treatment she needs.

Thank you.

Fundraising for Mrs. Carol Randall!

Mission Initiated

Mission Initiated

“It appears God is speaking to us through a big, bright neon sign, and I don’t think we can ignore it.”

Those were words spoken to me by my wife. Those are words that have become the bedrock of what appears to be the next chapter in our lives. Those are the words I hope serve as the foundation for God to one day look me in the eyes and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Oh My, God

THE BACKDROP

Shortly after moving to Tampa in July of 1996, I picked up a job at an internal helpdesk for GTE Data Services. I started out as a consultant (employed by a staffing company), and in August of 1997 I was hired by GTE to work directly for them. In the twenty years since, I’ve seen GTE become Verizon, held varying positions with differing responsibilities, and was able to create new opportunities for myself along the way. In November of this year, my manager informed me my position at Verizon was eliminated.

My first thought was job search. Even though I’d remain on the Verizon payroll through the end of the calendar year, and even though my severance package will provide a cushion that should last through the summer, I knew I had to get my resume in order and start networking. In a nutshell, my skillsets are very transferable but often difficult to quantify. I feel I’m an excellent manager, but how do you illustrate that on a C.V.? I am quite adept at process and project management, but every organization does things a little differently, and the metrics of my Verizon world may not necessarily translate to the world of a new employer (especially if the new employer is not in IT).

I promptly sent an email to my network of friends, family, and coworkers, and it was humbling to receive such supportive responses. I knew wherever I would land the opportunity would present itself as a result of who I know.

THE TRIP

My best friend Jeff is a dentist and has been wanting to do some form of a dental mission trip for as long as I’ve known him. He’d been invited to take part in a mission trip to the Dominican Republic by an acquaintance of his named Mike who started an organization called Advocates of Love (AOL). AOL runs an orphanage in the Samaná province of the D.R., and Mike asked Jeff to join him on his next trip so he could learn about the facility, meet the kids at the orphanage, and see what could be done going forward regarding dental missions.

Having no experience with mission work, Jeff asked if I would accompany him on this trip. I said yes, our mutual friend – also named Jeff – said yes as well, and the three of us coordinated our plans to travel with Mike and Pedro, another member of AOL, to the D.R.

Bright and early on November 30, we boarded our flight for the first leg of the journey to Santo Domingo, and my world has not been the same since.

THE CONVERSATION

Our first leg was from Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale. From there we boarded a flight to Santo Domingo, and I was able to sit next to Mike on that flight. I was eager to pick his brains about how and why he started the organization, the history of the orphanage, and what type of work we could expect to do once we arrived. Mike was more than happy to share his God-appointed story with me, and I was just left speechless at how time and time again God showed up in Mike’s life to make all these things happen.

I explained to Mike my wife and I have been tracking to move into mission work or ministry work full time, but not until after my son graduates from high school in May of 2019. I am very much a planner, and I like having a plan of attack for the next five years of my life.  As I was telling Mike about my plans, I am pretty sure I heard God chuckle.

Me: “So Lee and I would like to be missionaries one day.”

Mike: “That’s interesting because we need a director for our orphanage in Samaná.”

Me: “Did I mention I just got laid off?”

What began as a tongue-in-cheek joke on the plane turned out to be God pressing on my heart and opening a new door for me. Over the next four days, I would spend time loving on kids, painting walls, cleaning up around a construction site, understanding what AOL does for the children and surrounding community, and praying. Lots and lots of praying.

I also spent lots of time on the phone with Lee, at first telling her what I was feeling. The conversations then grew into a discussion of, “I’m willing if you are.” Lee was supportive – actually downright enthusiastic – about the idea of running this orphanage in the D.R. The more she and I discussed it, the more it seemed to all make sense. Then we hit the, “what about…” questions. Through it all, we were blessed to have God reveal to us many answers to our concerns.

THE PATH

Mission work and ministry have been on my heart since Lee and I returned from our first mission trip to the Dominican Republic in January of 2015. As we arrived at the airport in Santo Domingo preparing to return home, we both shared a glance that confirmed to each other we’d be back. As time passed and we became more involved with mission work in our church – Lee and I are currently the mission team coordinators for Relevant Church – we both knew that when the time was right, we’d leave it all to become full-time missionaries.  I even enrolled at Trinity College of Florida to pursue a degree in Christian Ministry. I completed my final class this past October.

What I didn’t know is that God’s will would supersede my plan. Theologically I knew that, but practically I was convinced my plan was a good one if not God ordained. But as the saying goes, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” From the moment I met Lee, I told her my vocation in life was to be the best dad I could be to my kids, and for me, that meant being available to them through high school graduation. June 2019 had become our target date for Gil and Lee 3.0

In all that time and through all the conversations, I ignored God’s nudging and His whispers. I justified such disobedience by pointing back to my plan and resting on the notion of being very comfortable with my job, one that allowed me to work from home and earn six figures. Life was good, and when I was ready, we’d make the move into mission work.

The funny thing is that God makes us move whether we’re ready or not. There is truth to the adage, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” In my case, He removed the barriers I created that, for me, were excuses for not making a move sooner.

“What about my job?”

“Don’t worry. I’m taking that away from you.”

“Okay, but what about this debt I’ve created?”

“Don’t worry. Here’s a severance package to help you with that.”

“But what am I going to do next? I need some form of income, and I don’t have time to fundraise.”

“Don’t worry. This is a salaried position.”

Every question I threw God’s way, He came back with an answer. He came back with the same assertive, almost trash-talking confidence we see in Malachi 3:10.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (NIV)

It’s as if God responded to each of my inquiries with, “Boom! Whatchu got?” To not listen and follow God would make me like the man in the ‘God Will Save Me’ joke.

THE RESOLVE

There’s a song by Imagine Dragons called Whatever It Takes, and this recent experience has me perfectly identifying with the lyrics of that song.

Whip, whip
Run me like a racehorse
Pull me like a ripcord
Break me down and build me up

Over the last month, God has broken me down and built me back up. He’s opened my eyes to what it means to step out in faith and in obedience. He’s made me understand what the meaning of the Abraham story is. I’d never been able to wrap my brain around Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son out of obedience to God, but I get it now. I better understand Elisha’s action of burning his plow when Elijah placed his mantle on him. I see more clearly now what Jesus means in the story of the rich man who was righteous but did not want to part with his possessions.


So loooooooong story short, Lee and I are moving to the D.R. More accurately, we’re praying the AOL board of directors formally approves us to be the next directors of the orphanage in Samaná, and we work out the transition and move details in January. Even if that should fall through, I know my next step is in ministry. The days of corporate America are over for me, and it’s time for me to work out of service to the Lord.

My friend and mentor Mickey Bane summarized the situation succinctly upon my return from my recent D.R. trip. He told me, “It’s not a matter of whether or not God is calling you to go. That’s obvious. The question is whether or not He’s calling you to stay; to stay in your nine-to-five, handcuffed to a career that doesn’t fulfill you.” To hear Mickey put it like that brought everything into clarity for Lee and me.

THE NEXT STEPS

There is still a lot to be done before Lee and I are drinking café under palm trees in Samaná. The first thing is prayer. As I mentioned earlier, we need the AOL board to extend us an offer for the position, and I believe the more people are praying for this opportunity to come to fruition, the better. We have to sell our house and downsize, and by downsize I mean sell just about EVERYTHING! We also must work out the logistical details that will come with moving to either another country, another state, or just a small apartment in Tampa.

Whatever God has in store for us, I know it will be perfect. Wherever He sends us, I know we will go. Like Elwood Blues would say, we’re on a mission from God
… a mission that is just getting started.

 

****UPDATE******

A picture I took of the beach area that is just a 5-minute walk from the orphanage.

CTRL+Z

CTRL+Z

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.

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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.


nablopomo

The Struggles of a Faith Addict

When I look back at the really spectacular memories I’ve had over the last several years, I realize those moments have come following a time of obedience and spiritual discipline in my life. I firmly believe God provides blessings all the time, but He is extra generous when we strive to live in Him and for Him.

This realization is thrilling. I have at times been overcome by the rush and euphoria of living in faith, of being carefree of my troubles on earth, knowing my prize is on the other side of eternity. There’s a sense of fearless invincibility that comes with living in obedience to God, knowing with absolute certainty that He is protecting you along the way.

But living this way requires a lot of effort, and momentum can be as fickle as a breeze. Living in faith is not easy. Many times it can feel exhausting. It’s not unlike going to the gym. There are some days when I just want a ‘day off’ from making time for God.

I’ve had a lot of those days lately.

Yet God never takes a day off from loving us. He is constant in His love for us.

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I was reminded of that today when I received a message from a friend of mine whose been through a lot in recent months. Some of it was of his own doing, and the collateral effects were gut-wrenching. Still, through it all my friend maintained his focus on God, and his perspective is an inspiring shot in the arm.

“Maybe God doesn’t always answer prayers as we would like, but it’s my experience that He answers prayers as they need to be answered!”

His is a story of stumbling in darkness and still finding light in the lowest of places.

“…He answers prayers as they need to be answered!”

God’s plan is perfect. God’s timing in revealing His plan to us is also perfect. What is not perfect are the pieces He uses for completing His plan; you and me. We are imperfect beings who struggle with our own burdens. Addiction, greed, desires, temperament; the list of faults is an infinite as God’s love for us.

Still, when we are in relationship with God, it means there are two parties that need to ‘do’. God has already done His part. He always has and He always will. In order for us to experience the euphoria that comes with walking in Christ, we must actually walk. We must actually do. There is nothing passive about having faith.

My friend wrapped up his note to me with this.

“I believe God has helped me, but I also believe that I must continually seek help through prayer, treatment, therapy, whatever it takes. It’s a gift from God that I feel relieved of my burden, and the last thing I want to do is to take that gift for granted by not continuing to do the things which will keep me on the right path.”

There is nothing passive about having faith.

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” – James 1:2-4 (NLT)

Just Full

We’ve all seen this a million times before, right? Is the glass half empty or half full? We’ve all been asked the question: Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

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This sentiment has been on my mind the last 24 hours. My wife is currently on a hospital bed recovering from a hysterectomy. The procedure went well, but there was a complication post-surgery that required her to once again be put under in order for it to be resolved.

Our friends and family provided their prayers, support, and well wishes, but my focus was fixed on praise. Yes, I did start the day asking the Holy Spirit to be with the surgical team, and to release Lee from any anxiety leading up to the procedure. But for the most part, I was zeroed-in on the praise.

And this is new to me. I am normally one to come at prayer from a, “God, you know I don’t ask for much, but I really need X,Y, and Z from you right now” angle. It’s as if I am cashing in some goodwill prayer chip I earned by not asking for anything in the last week or month. I think God gets a kick out of our feeble attempt to apply finite, human sensibilities to his infinite awesomeness. I also think He feels a little sad we can’t seem, for the most part, to get prayer right.

In his book Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, author Wayne Grudem defines God’s omnipresence as follows: “God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with His whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.” Grudem goes on to explain God can be present to punish, to sustain, or to bless. He continues:

The idea of God’s omnipresence has sometimes troubled people who wonder how God can be present, for example, in hell. In fact, isn’t hell the opposite of God’s presence, or the absence of God? This difficulty can be resolved by realizing that God is present in different ways in different places, or that God acts differently in different places in creation. Sometimes God is present to punish. 

Grudem goes on to reference Amos 9:1-4 as a scriptural example of God presence in hell. In reading through this, my mind was blown. I was fascinated by a thought process I’d never before considered. I’ve always believed in the omnipresence of God, but I never applied it to the confines of hell.

Then I thought about the other functions God performs; blessing and sustaining. I thought about how He provides for me, keeps my world together – both literally and figuratively – and pours His blessings on me daily. I am blessed to live in a first world country with modern medicine and state of the art medical facilities. I am blessed to have health insurance through my employer. I am blessed to have the resources that allow for my wife to experience physical betterment through surgery. Blessing upon blessing upon blessing, by a God who is, has been, and always be there for me, with me, and in me.

There is no where I can go that God is not present. Even in what we perceive to be empty, He is there. Even in the darkness, He is there. Even in the lowest and the loneliest moments of our lives, He is there.

PTA

So yay God for that reality, and praise Him for His faithfulness and steadfastness towards us. It’s perfectly fine to ask God for help and to present our requests to Him, but we should be sure to first honor Him in praise and thanksgiving.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.Philippians 4:6 NIV

The Power (and Responsibility) of Love

It is a blessing from God to find someone in your life to love with all your being. Someone with whom you can grow old, and share every aspect of your soul along the way.

I assume that is the love Bud Caldwell shared with his wife Betty. It is clear Bud and Betty were truly blessed to have each other. But also key to the story in the video below from CBS News is the love displayed by Jerrod Ebert and Kevin Schultz: love for service, love for kindness, love for love.

As so eloquently stated by Steve Hartman, “Sometimes, to make a difference in the world, you need a good idea. And sometimes, all you need is to recognize the good around you and clear the way for it.”

Amen!