ICE, ICE, Baby

ICE, ICE, Baby

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.

Getting Through With Gratitude

Getting Through With Gratitude

It started with a phone call.

“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.

    If you keep to my path,

    I will reveal to you the salvation of God.

Psalm 50:22-23 NLT

Getting My Tetris On

Getting My Tetris On

We drove up to our friends’ house in Hahira this evening. The goal of this trip is two-fold. First, Lindsey is hosting a women’s retreat at her house, and there are seven other women including Lee coming from Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida to take part in the retreat.

Secondly, we’re moving all of our home office furniture to Jeff and Lindsey’s. To do this, we rented a minivan and I spent the day taking apart the office and loading it into a Dodge Caravan.

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Back in college, I would play Tetris incessantly. I spent hours upon hours of moving and flipping geometrical shapes in order to make them fit where I needed them to. This is perhaps the most useful skill set I obtained in college because I’ve developed a reputation among family and friends as being ‘the one who packs’. When it comes to loading a vehicle to the gills, everyone knows to simply get out of the way and leave me and my OCD alone.

We also brought a stand-up freezer with us. Given it was the largest item, I loaded it in the van first with the intention of packing everything else around it. I actually said a deliberate and intentional prayer before I started packing because I knew I would not be able to figure it all out on my own.

Upon getting the freezer in the minivan, it was apparent the furniture would not fit. I took the freezer out, called Jeff to let him know I was not able to bring the freezer, and proceeded to load the office furniture which was the priority. After patting myself on the back for a job well done with the office furniture, I was staring into the van, mentally measuring the remaining space. I took out my tape measure and confirmed what I had been thinking. After moving a couple of pieces around, I was able to make the freezer fit in the van.

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I think the lesson here is that God is faithful when we ask for His help. However, because of our flawed human condition, we default to looking at things – problems – from a human/logical perspective. In my case, I loaded the freezer first because it made sense to do it that way. It wasn’t until I had abandoned my plans for the freezer and completed the priority plan for the furniture that God revealed to me how to load the freezer in the van.

I firmly believe that is a microcosm of how God answers our prayers and works with us. Instead of giving us what is easy or simple, God delays His blessing until we put in the work and learn to trust in Him. Prayer without action is simply a wish, but once we put in our part and work in the confidence that God will provide, He comes through with the answer to our prayer.

So if you’re frustrated that all the pieces in your life don’t fit nice and neat, keep praying but also keep working. To quote Mark Batterson, “we need to pray like it depends on God and work like it depends on us.”

 

Skate, Bitch!

Coincidence is just God showing off.

And it was by coincidence about a month ago my wife stumbled across an announcement the venerable and talented Kevin Smith would be conducting one of his famous Q&A sessions at Tampa’s Improv comedy club. In the early stages of our relationship in 2005, Lee and I bonded, in part, because of our mutual love of Kevin Smith and the movies he makes.

“There is no way we’re missing this,” she told me.

“Umm …. I may be in New York on August 12 playing telephone repair man,” I reminded her.

“There’s no way I’m missing this,” she said with a confident, unapologetic smile.

And so this evening my wife and I had our second ‘go out on a school night’ date of the week, and it was amazing.

Kevin Smith is a fantastic story teller. If you let him, he could tell stories for days on end. Tonight’s performance was, by definition, a question and answer forum with the acclaimed writer and director. One would think Smith would cover a wide array of topics and subject matter. He did, but in the two hours allocated, he answered only four questions. That’s how detailed and immersed Kevin gets into telling a story about how or why he did something a certain way.

Kevin Smith
Image via ew.com

And through it all – through the foul language and inappropriate subject matter, through the stories of friends maintaining sobriety and fighting off thoughts of suicide, through eye-opening accounts that show the human and real side of celebrities often thought to be divas – the common theme was inspiration.

It was a slap in the face to me, but one I desperately needed.

In my new-found faith journey, one I’ve been traveling for just over six years now, I’ve immersed myself in the writings and teachings of so many men and women of faith. Steven Furtick, Christine Caine, Joel Olsteen, John Eldridge, Joyce Meyer, Craig Groeschel, and, of course, my own pastor Paul Wirth: I’ve learned so much about God and my faith and my relationship with Jesus all because of their words, teachings, and actions.

I am currently reading Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, and it’s not hyperbole when I say the book is transforming my life. Not only am I learning about the power of prayer, I am experiencing it as well. I remember listening to the audio book four weeks ago – yes, I am a slow reader/listener and I don’t do a good job making time to finish the book – and being inspired to pick up a writing project I shelved a year ago. It’s an intimidating project I’ve been avoiding, and I always manage to find a reason to not start it up again. Yet there I was in my car, crying, and feeling Batterson’s words speak to me.

I still haven’t touched the project.

God has enveloped me in kid-glove-like affection and direction by surrounding me with such inspiring and positive works, yet I still find myself in the rut of my own making. I still find myself playing it safe in my comfort zone and ignoring what He’s calling me to do.

And that is why I think God took a different approach with me tonight, one filled with F-bombs and stories of smoking weed on hotel room balconies. There’s no doubt in my mind God put me in the audience of Kevin Smith’s show so I could finally do my part and get back to the keyboard. It worked. Today is August 12 and I hadn’t posted to my blog since July 2.

The writing hiatus stops now.

God does His part to give us joy, accomplishment, and greatness. He delivers every day in a million different ways, yet we fail to listen. We fail to move. We fail to act. We fail to respond. As is the recurring theme in scripture, we fail God while He remains faithful to us.

The failing stops now.

During the Kevin Smith show, we were not allowed to have our phones out at all. This is very understandable, but hinders my affection for tweeting great quotes or ideas as they are said. Thankfully, I was able to capture some of them the old-fashioned, analog way: pen and napkin. Here are some of the tweet-worthy comments from tonight’s show.

<when pursuing a dream> “Push a little fucking whimsy.”

“If you want to get shit done, surround yourself with people who will ask, ‘Why not?'”

“Acting is the lie that tells the truth. It’s the only witchcraft that really exists.”

I think my favorite Kevin Smith quote of the night comes from the idea that we live in a world where people will question your motivation and tell you you can’t do a particular something. They’ll tell you, as an example, you can’t skate or that you’ve never skated before or that skating is for other people and not you. They’ll tell you the ice is thin and give you reason after reason of why you can’t or shouldn’t skate. Yet what we need ….. what we crave …. is someone to look us in the eyes and say, “Skate, bitch!”

In His own crafty way, that’s what God told me tonight. I’ve been watching other people on the ice for so long. Now it’s my turn to lace ’em up, get out there, and skate.

Image via WikiPedia
Image via WikiPedia