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.


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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.

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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!

365 Days of Blessings – A Year in Review

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.

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The Transformation
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.

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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.

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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.

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Spring Forward
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.

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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.

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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.

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Summertime, Ey!
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.

June

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.

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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.

We miss our Boo, Monkey, and Peppy.
We miss our Boo, Monkey, and Peppy.

Doctor, Doctor
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.

The Reminder
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.

Joshua

The Stranger

I grew up on the music of Billy Joel. His collection of songs makes up the soundtrack of my youth, and I love putting his music on in the background when I’m doing stuff around the house. It really does take me back to a good time in my life.

I was doing that today and his song The Stranger came on the playlist. I’ve listened to the song a thousand times, but today I listened to it for the first time from a completely different perspective.

Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on

Stranger

As a Christ follower, I do believe we’re engaged in spiritual warfare every day. Our lives are in the middle of a combat zone, and we’re caught between God’s love and mercy, and the wretchedness of the enemy who will do anything to keep us away from Him. It seems like a no-brainer, right? Who wouldn’t want to be with God? But if there’s one advantage the enemy has it’s that he operates on a plain of existence that’s easily visible to our human brains (and bodies).

I struggle every day with setbacks. From the things I see to the things I do, I know they don’t honor God, but I do them anyways. Why? Because they feel good or provide instant gratification or because they’re easy and fit so comfortably into my pattern of lazy. I truly believe laziness, comfort, and convenience are all tools used by the enemy to distract us and keep us away from God. A perfect example is my being to lazy to set my alarm on Saturday night and oversleeping on Sunday morning, thus missing the opportunity to go to church. As they say, the devil is in the details.

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I know the man I want to be, the man I am trying to be. I see the vision of myself five to ten years from now, living and working in a foreign country, calling God’s will my career. I then try to juxtapose that with the person I am now, with the stranger that lives inside me. The guy who still feels the impulse to flip off the idiot in traffic. The guy who has a Masters degree in the use of the F-word in conversation. The guy who struggles with thoughts of lust and sinful desires (darn you, yoga pants!).

Though you drown in good intentions
You will never quench the fire
You’ll give in to your desire
When the stranger comes along

Yet even though the daily battles are real, it’s still about the journey and the process of walking in faith with Jesus.  God provides so many opportunities and tools along the way to remind me of where I need grow, and to guide me in that direction. Just today I came across this article in Relevant Magazine. It was very thought provoking for me, and my takeaway was how we’re all called to be patient with each other, specifically in the context of social media and Internet comments. This is most definitely an area in which I fail daily.

The culture of hot takes and instant Facebook statuses isn’t exactly conducive to the idea of being “slow to speak and slow to become angry,” but it does provide an opportunity to show grace, humility and kindness. We can demonstrate that the way of the Gospel is different than the way of the world by not being quick to respond with biting takedowns every time something happens that “offends” us.

Then I received an email from my friend. In it, he detailed his recent struggles and how he’s closer to God as a result. My friend’s troubles are real and serious. They’ve cost him a lot, both financially and emotionally. It was a sobering reminder of how blessed I am, and why there’s no reason for me to not overcome my burdens when I see what he’s done (and continues to do) to overcome his. The summary excerpt of his message is below.

This entire experience has reminded me that God can work in our lives. We need to understand that He knows what’s best, and trust Him. I pray daily that God helps me avoid situations and feelings that would tempt me … . I am at peace with what happened, and know that God will get me through the rest of what I need to deal with. … When it’s time, God will provide. I know this now. I’m not happy about it but I understand what I need to do, and I know that I’m not alone. And, the reality is that what I have far, far outweighs what I don’t have – God, family, love, friends, and faith. With these things, I am able to face anything.

The word’s to Billy Joel’s song and from my friend’s email are a reminder of our human nature. We’re imperfect beings loved unconditionally by a perfect God. We will fall and He will pick us up. We will fail and he will forgive us. We will be broken and He will transform us into something beautiful.

Though He may seem, to us, like a stranger at times, God knew us and loved us before He created us. He is intimacy and He is love. When the weight of the battle feels like too much, all we have to do is surrender it to Him, the one who’s been there from the start, and will always be by our side.

Season of Giving

As we all rush around picking up last minute items for Christmas, it’s easy to get lost in the to-do’s and lose sight of the holiday spirit. It’s been said time and time again that Christ is the reason for the season, and that Christmas is the season of giving.

But when you look at the eternalness of our God, not bound by time and enveloping us in His love in the past, present, and future, the ‘season’ of Christ is every day of our lives.

In reading my devotional, I came across this excerpt by Jefferson Bethke that perfectly explains how God’s love is a gift to us.

As a parent now I am starting to see things differently. One thing that I’ve noticed about it is just how much I love giving Kinsley, our daughter, gifts. Either things I’ve made, a flower from my walk home, or a big gift like on Christmas or something.

One thing that makes this so special is to see her face when she gets the gift. To see how much she loves it, makes me love giving the gift even more! It makes me light up. Imagine though if I gave Kinsley a gift, and instead of being excited she looked at me and asked how much she owed me for the gift. It’d devastate me.

I think sometimes we don’t realize that’s us every time we try to repay God. Every time we try to earn His love. No it’s freely given as a gift and we have that because of Jesus. And being joyful and thankful about that gift is what God wants from us most!

It’s always fun and exciting to get something, but it can be life affirming to give something. I hope this holiday season, you allow the spirit of giving to maintain its momentum into every day of 2016, and this includes taking time each day to stop and say, “Thank You” to the Lord for all He provides.

Thanks