This past week has taken me to Tampa, Miami, Valdosta, and back home to Dothan. In all, I drove over 1400 miles and spent over 20 hours behind the wheel. I’m pretty sure I’ll be sleeping in tomorrow.
Yet when I think about this trip and how unnecessarily inefficient it was, I feel blessed in knowing this trip was also about me being with my people.
When you look on my phone and the individuals listed on my ICE list (in case of emergency), these are the people I got to see and share time with on this trip. These are the people that make up my inner circle. These are the people that matter to me most.
It was the person who called me and allowed me to pray and cry with him when he was diagnosed with cancer. It was his wife who inspired my faith by making her daughter’s relationship with Christ a priority. It was the friend with whom I jumped out of an airplane. It was her husband who continually challenges me to find ways to serve others. It was my ex-wife who taught me about forgiveness. It was the daughter she and I share that taught me about what’s truly important. It was my brother who continues to model what family is all about.
And I got to come home to my wife, the person who is my best friend and partner in everything I do.
I like to think I’ve done well in my life. Not perfect by any stretch, but very blessed to have had a well-paying career, provided for my children, taken steps in my faith life, and hopefully making a positive impact along the way.
But when it comes to considering myself successful, I will defer to Mark Batterson‘s definition.
Death is never easy. The death of a parent even less so.
When my mother passed away in August, my focus was on logistics. I had to make arrangements to drive from Dothan, Alabama, to Miami (580 miles), stay at a hotel, and factor in picking up AND dropping off my kids along the way. My priorities were internal and as a natural problem solver, the overall task was not very hard.
All the details, however, regarding the viewing, memorial Mass, and burial were handled by my brother. As a function of him living in Miami, it made sense for him to grab those tasks by the reigns and manage them. What I didn’t anticipate, though, are the countless hours he’s spent in post-burial administration.
We decided to sell my mother’s house and property, and given my mother had established a trust, the specifics of that real estate deal needed to flow through the trust. As did the coordination of beneficiary payments for the few financial holdings my mother possessed. Long story short, it’s been a ton of paperwork, an avalanche of phone calls, and miles and miles of driving to and fro for my big bro.
It’s easy to sit here one state away (although given Florida’s length, it may as well be four states away) and respond to an email on occasion and perhaps field a phone call from an attorney. What is insanely difficult is balancing a full-time job, a household that includes a high-schooler and college student, and Miami traffic while trying to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s of this administrative endeavor.
It’s insane and unfair.
Yet through it all, my brother has not complained and has really stepped up to resolve all the issues along the way. He’s been so on top of this the only word that comes to mind is heroic.
My brother turned fifty this year and our relationship over the past decade was weakened by distance, complacency, and a lot of thick-headedness (mostly mine). However, my mom’s passing has brought us closer, and I feel blessed to feel the admiration I do for my brother. It motivates me to be better ands more intentional with the guy who was my best friend growing up.
God renews us with His love, and I am so glad he’s given us an opportunity to renew our relationship together. Thank you for all you’ve done. Thank you for all you do. And thank you for being my big brother. I love you.
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.”
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
It was early September and we were gathered around the dinner table at my brother’s house in Miami. My family – cousins, sister-in-law, brother, wife – had spent the previous forty-eight hours mourning the sudden and unexpected passing of my mother. And following a viewing and a Mass, it was time to do what Cubans do and reminisce on the days of old.
From my perspective, it was a glorious childhood. My maternal grandparents had five children. Each of them had two children. We were a clan of ten cousins and I was the penultimate, only four years older than the youngest. For the most part, we’d met every Friday night at my grandparents’ house. Games of tag gave way to movie nights and sleepovers, and even though we were mostly disparate, we were there for each other.
There were varying ages and personalities. The older cousins were trailblazers and made a lot of things possible for me. I learned so much from watching them and listening to them. When I look back at the failures in my life, I think I would’ve been better served had I chosen to listen a little more.
But that glorious childhood succumbed to the passage of time, college years, marriages, and, eventually, kids of our own. We all grew up and went on with our lives, and in many ways, there was never a sense of closure on that period of our lives. It just went away.
So there we were, gathered around the table, the tension as thick as mud. For me at least, anyway.
When I think about it now, I realize how silly it was. How silly it was for me to let years – over a decade – pass and watch what once was robust and loving relationships dangle in the proverbial wind. I didn’t care to call. I didn’t bother to text. Why? It’s almost too embarrassing to admit out loud, but the truth is a simple one:
Millions of Americans will take to the polls on Tuesday and cast their vote for President of the United States. Millions of Americans have already done so with early voting periods and absentee ballets. We are privileged to live in a country where we have the opportunity to participate in democracy, and if you’re eligible to vote, I hope you exercise that right and make your voice heard.
And it’s okay to be passionate about your causes. It’s one of the things that makes us great as a country. The diversity of opinion, the resonance of debate, the emergence of new ideas; all these things reach deep into the foundation on which America was built. The problem emerges when we let these passions divide us. And that is exactly what I realized I had done with my family. I let my personal ideology cloud and come before the literal life-long relationships I shared with my cousins … as well as the relationship I shared with my brother.
As a Christ-follower, I see now how awful that is. It took time and reflection for me to get to this realization. It also took listening to Andy Stanley’s message series Talking Points for this to really hit home.
“Your political candidate will win or lose based on how the citizens of the United States vote on a single Tuesday in November. But the church wins or loses, the community wins or loses, in some way our nation wins or loses, based on how we treat each other and love each other and love our world every single day between now and then. Disagree politically, but love unconditionally, and pray for unity.” – Andy Stanley
I failed at doing this. Failed miserably.
But there we were, huddled in a room, united by blood and marriage, all coming together to clear the air, bury the hatchet, and reset among ourselves. And through tears and through the realization of my own selfish and arrogant thinking, I told them this, “Regardless of who you vote for on November 3, I will still love you.”
For me, at least, it was a powerful and emotional moment, one that capped off a very emotional forty-eight hours. And we all would not have been there if not for the sudden and unexpected passing of my mother.
Is that my phone ringing? I think that’s my phone ringing.
Being awoken suddenly at 3:00 AM is disorienting, especially when you’re foggy mind is trying to make sense of who can possibly be calling at such a time.
I pressed one eye closed so I can better focus on the caller ID of my cell phone. It read, “Lenny.”
My stomach sank. My mind raced. My heart went into overdrive as my brain instinctively directed my hands to answer the phone.
“Hey, man. <deep pause> Listen ……..”
My brother didn’t have to say anything else. His somber tone and verbal hesitation told me everything I needed to know.
It was barely one week since Lee and I had returned from South Florida after having dropped my mother off at her house. She had visited with us for ten days, a trip that was preceded on the front end with a stop in Tampa so we can all celebrate my daughter’s graduation from the University of South Florida.
My mother fled Cuba in the early ’60s following Castro’s revolution on the island, and she was robbed of the opportunity to pursue a college education. Now, more than half a century later, she was watching her oldest grandchild receive recognition for completion of her Bachelor’s degree. The commencement was virtual as we congregated around a flat-screen at my ex-wife’s house, but the feeling of pride that swelled in her heart was very real. This was her legacy and she was witnessing it first hand.
Seven days following her visit, the Lord called her home.
The cliché is true: You’re never ready for the loss of a parent. It was true in 2004 when my father passed away, even after he battled cancer for two years. It was especially true on the morning of August 27 as I struggled to make sense of what my brother was telling me.
“Mom died. I’m sorry. I …. I ….. I don’t know what to say.”
We had just celebrated her seventy-seventh birthday on August 10th, and now I am struggling to come to grips with the reality of my mother no longer being with us.
I am not sure if hero is the right word. The relationship I shared with my mother can best be described as complicated. I left Miami in 1990 and although I spent twenty-two years in Tampa, a mere four-hour drive away, the moments with my mom were limited. I would try to make the most of every time we were together, but inevitably one of us would run out of patience with the other. As she became older, I knew it was my responsibility to bring as much grace as possible to our relationship, but if you know Cuban culture, you will understand it is not steeped in patience.
Like I said … complicated.
Still, I’ve never met anyone in my life who better personifies the idea of selflessness. I remember as a child my mom staying up late to help me finish poster board projects for school. I remember how she made frugality an art form as she was always able to feed a family of four on a budget, the financial savings always earmarked to provide my brother and me a Catholic school education. I remember how she would routinely go without – new clothes, meals at restaurants, comfortable living – so that I could have what she never had. With my mother, the life experience was never about her. It was always about providing for others. Even in her sixteen years as a widow, she never sought to splurge on herself. She had two sons who could always use some help. She had five grandchildren she was eager to dote on and spoil.
The Space Needle in Seattle is six hundred and five feet tall, and 5,600 tons of concrete were used for its foundation. As a result, the structure can withstand a wind velocity of 200 miles per hour. If being heroic can be described as laying the foundation for what it means to be selfless, giving, meek, humble, and reflective of God’s love, then by every definition of the word my mother was my hero. My ability to be who I am today I owe to what my mother poured into me growing up. She continued to solidify the foundation of my life as a father and husband, and she did it all through her actions.
Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you. – Luke 14:14 NLT
In today’s ‘look at me’ society, my mother was an anomaly. She quietly held to her faith and surrendered all her burdens to God. Through the death of her parents and siblings, in my father’s passing, with her breast cancer diagnoses, treatment, and successful recovery; my mother was steadfast in her devotion to our Heavenly Father.
“Si Dios quiere.”
For a woman who never met an anecdotal expression she didn’t like, I am pretty sure her favorite was, “If it’s God’s will.”
And in this time of sadness, as we prepare to honor and remember my mother next week, I surrender all the “what if’s” of my mind to the belief it was God’s will to call her home. Rather than focus on the pain, I choose to focus on all the blessings that have been revealed with my mother’s passing. Little details that only make sense in retrospect. Tiny God-winks that continue to serve as a reminder of His sovereignty over all things and His amazing love for all of us.
In the end, my mother’s heart gave out and she passed away. I like to think it was a heart so full of love, so willing to serve others, so focused on everyone but itself, that God wanted it back home with Him.
I like to think my mother was greeted in His presence with, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
How amazingly heroic is that?
Please click here for my mother’s obituary and for information regarding her funeral arrangements.
“Christie called. She wanted to tell me about a job opportunity.”
My wife’s tone in telling me about a conversation she had with her former boss was one of pleasant surprise. It was completely unexpected and came at a time when we were weighing our options with regards to leaving our apartment and renting a house.
As it turned out, this new job opportunity for my wife opened the door to us moving into the house we’re now renting. Not only were we able to afford the rent for our current place, but this house also allowed us to have my mother-in-law move in with us once again (we shared a house with her in Tampa for nearly ten years).
This all happened last Fall, with moving day being the day after Thanksgiving. And we’ve been grateful ever since.
As we find ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s never been more apparent to me how God was working back then to position us now to be better safeguarded from this virus. Weeks before the outbreak first began in Wuhan, China, we were dealing with movers and utility companies and sore backs. Months before we had any realization of what the phrase ‘novel coronavirus’ meant, our focus was on furniture and fixtures. But it’s clear to me God’s focus was on us.
“Can you imagine?”
Lee and I ask ourselves that question almost daily. As we manage our day to day during this safer-at-home season, we wonder what it would have been like had we not moved into this house. With my mother-in-law living twenty miles away in Ozark, Alabama, what would we have done if we were still in our apartment? I think we’d have no choice but to have her temporarily move in with us and take residence in our guest bedroom, a room with only a futon no television.
We would most certainly feel as if we were on top of each other, sharing an already crammed kitchen. Lee and I shared an office in that apartment, a situation that would have been nearly impossible to manage with me working from home during this period (Lee’s current position is 100% remote work).
Truth be told, I cannot begin to imagine it.
But the problems in that scenario would be nothing compared to what others are facing today. Single parents on the verge of losing their livelihood because they have to stay home with their children. Children – as detailed in this amazing piece by Udonis Haslem – whose only real meal of the day was provided by their school. Adults who can no longer visit their aging parents in person. Families who continue to grieve the passing of a loved one.
Yes, these times we’re living through suck right now. As optimistic as we want to be about the end of this pandemic, the reality is ‘normalcy’ may still be many months away. There are so many voices, so many opinions, so much disunity as a result of this virus; I am afraid things may never be quite ‘normal’ again.
But one thing is clear. Hope.
Hope in our medical community, hope in our researchers, and, most importantly, hope in our Heavenly Father.
There is a quote from Mark Batterson that I absolutely love and I try to apply every day to my life. “PRAY like it depends on God. WORK like it depends on you.”
God will always deliver according to His timing, but we each have to do our part in the process. I trust in God and have confidence he will get us through this pandemic. I also trust that God gave the medical professionals and experts the intellect to battle this virus and communicate their findings to the rest of us. I trust God gave me the wisdom to practice the mitigation techniques for preventing the spread of the virus. Hand washing, social distancing, wearing a mask; where others see this as a burden or an imposition, I choose to see it as my way of loving my neighbor.
It’s become mentally fatiguing to read about individuals scoffing at the notion of being cautious with this virus. They proudly and defiantly say God will protect them.
Yes, God is capable of anything, and He may very well choose to provide blanket immunity to the virus to select individuals. But the same logic God-fearing individuals apply to buckling up their seat belt when they get in their car is the same logic that applies to adhering to mitigation protocols against the virus.
I’ll take the analogy one step further. In the same way I would secure my children when they were young in their car seat – because I love them and want to make sure they’re protected – I wear a mask in public because I want to make sure my neighbor is protected.
The extent to which I love God is evident in the extent to which I love other people.
I have to do my part to protect myself, protect my family, and protect my neighbor. I do this all the while asking God to bring an end to this time of pain and uncertainty. Trusting God and taking precautions are not mutually exclusive actions.
“PRAY like it depends on God. WORK like it depends on you.”
This brings me back to the purpose of this post. I firmly believe what will get us through this crisis is gratitude. I know it sounds counter-intuitive. With people losing their jobs, their sanity, and even their lives, how or why would they/we be thankful?
Since the beginning of this pandemic, there’s been a part of me that’s felt if I could be so bold as to try to understand God’s will in all of this, perhaps it is to make us shift our focus onto Him. In every year and across every generation, it’s been so easy to point to something in particular and say, “this is because we’ve lost sight of God.” To be honest, it’s an over-used and conveniently overplayed trope in our national conversation. Still, in this election year where the dissonance between ‘both sides’ has simply grown bigger and wider, it makes sense to me that God is using this as a proverbial slap in the face to wake us up.
In taking a macro view of this pandemic, I am humbled by what I see as blessing upon blessing upon blessing. No matter how I’ve been impacted, no matter how I’ve been inconvenienced, the fact I am not mourning the death of a family member is a blessing from God. Of the over 77,000 deaths in the United States, those have all occurred to ‘other people’. That was the case until this week when I was notified my father’s close friend from New York passed away. Patsy’s death was a result of complications arising from COVID-19, and it’s the first virus-related death of someone I knew personally.
I can’t begin to imagine what Patsy’s family is going through. I can’t begin to imagine what the families of the over quarter-million people worldwide who’ve succumbed to this disease are going through. I am thankful I don’t have to, and I am praying – and working – fervently to ensure I don’t have to.
I want to be close to God always. But especially in these times, I want to be close to Him. I need to be close to Him. And I think Tara-Leigh Cobble says it best in her The Bible Recap podcast. “Remembering God is directly connected to our gratitude and thanksgiving. When we express gratitude to God, it knits our hearts to Him and it prompts us to be much more likely to walk closely with Him.”
Repent, all of you who forget me,
or I will tear you apart,
and no one will help you.
But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me.
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!
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:
Everyone fails. Anyone you see succeeding is only succeeding at the things you’re paying attention to—I guarantee they are also failing at lots of other things. The people I respect most are those who fail well. I respect them even more than those who succeed. pic.twitter.com/hGmQwehXSv
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
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.