On The Surface

On The Surface

“It’s all good.”

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.”

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

 

Something Crazy?

Ever have one of those moments after doing something that leaves you questioning your sanity?

I’ve been on the fence about taking a next step in my faith journey, a step that would mean a significant time and financial commitment. For several months now I’ve been wrestling with the idea, going back and forth as to why I should or shouldn’t do it. Today, it all came to a head. I felt God nudge shove me and say, “Just do it already!” So I did.

This evening, I submitted an application for the TrinityQuest program at Trinity College. My goal is to learn more about God’s Word and, along the way, earn a degree I can use to transition out of corporate life and into a vocation of ministry.

In the application process, I was asked to submit a brief biography explaining how I came to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and why I want to attend Trinity. 750 words can be considered brief, right?

Below is a copy of the essay I submitted.

Hello. My name is child of the one true King.

Yes, I know that is a blatant rip-off of a Matthew West song, but it also happens to be true.

Over forty years ago, I, as an infant, was baptized by my God-parents and welcomed into the Catholic Church. I was raised in an “attend church every so often” household, one where God was present but not necessarily made a priority.

I attended Catholic school from Kindergarten through high school, doing my Catholic duty along the way. Altar boy, lector, Eucharistic minister, peer minister, Christian leader: I was happy to fill my extra-curricular time with work and activities related to my Catholic upbringing.

As teens tend to do, I drifted away from church in college. The pace and workload of university life, coupled with giving into the indulgences of living in New Orleans – I attended Tulane university – lead me to exclude God from my life. I became a stereotypical Christmas and Easter Catholic, and that is where I stayed for the better part of 15 years.

During that decade and a half, I was married, had two children, eventually failed as a husband, and saw my marriage come to an end. I faced the darkest moments of my life, moments that found me chasing comfort at the bottom of a bottle and in the beds of strangers. Yet although I felt alone, I knew in my heart I was not alone. I knew through it all, God was calling me to course correct. He was calling me back into His love, His grace, and His protection.

One Sunday morning, I felt His voice stronger than ever. “Go to Mass. I need you there.” I randomly and reluctantly attended Mass at the nearest Catholic Church, and on that day I was introduced to the new Youth Minister that had just been hired. She convinced me to step up and volunteer in the youth ministry program, and it was that experience that started me on a path of redemption.

I would meet someone new, a woman who would challenge me to be a better person and a man of God. This woman would end up becoming my wife, and we would struggle at first to celebrate our faith together, she having been raised Baptist and I having been raised Catholic. Through God’s will, we were introduced to Relevant Church in Tampa. I would say through coincidence, but I’ve come to learn that coincidence is just God showing off.

For the two of us, we were not facing a crisis of faith so much as a crisis of church. At Relevant, we found the spiritual home we’d been seeking, and it’s been truly transformational for the both of us. We’ve taken part in growth groups that have allowed us to do life with others in our church community, and to truly grow our understanding of His Word. We’ve volunteered on our First Impressions team, happily greeting on Sunday mornings, and welcoming experienced and first time visitors alike with warm smiles and firm handshakes. And in the spring of 2013, my wife and I renewed our commitment to God by being baptized as adults.

It was during one of our growth groups, at a time when we were studying the book Greater by Pastor Steven Furtick, that I felt God compel me to move. I felt His calling in a way I hadn’t before, and I knew God was telling me to move in a direction of ministry. God blessed me with the talent of writing, and rather than continue to bury that talent out of fear, I’ve chosen to invest that talent in His Word by ministering to others through both my actions and my blog.

I know I still have a long way to go in my faith journey, but it’s a walk I take with a new found yearning to learn more about the loving direction God provides us through Scripture. It is for this reason I would like to attend Trinity College. I want to continue to grow in Christ and move on the path God has called me to take.

I am a child of the one true King, and I want to learn, grow, and Kingdom-build here on earth for His love and His glory.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

More Than A Meal

Random Writers: What was your most memorable meal?

I love food. I love eating food. As I look at the mirror and try to wrap my brain around the fact when I graduated from high school over twenty-one years ago, I weighed 100 pounds less than I do today, my love for food is that much more obvious.

It’s tough to try and nail down one meal I’ve eaten in my lifetime that is the most memorable. Seriously? Can you think of one meal out of the thousands of meals you’ve eaten in your life that you feel is the most memorable? I can’t.

I can, however, highlight some very special meals that stand out in my memory. They stand out not so much because of the food experience, but because of the situation or event that surrounded it. I present them to you in no particular order.

One meal that I remember is the dinner to celebrate the college graduation of my girlfriend at the time. It was at a restaurant in New Orleans named Antoine’s, and the experience was second to none. The food was amazing, the service was exceptional, and the overall dining experience set the bar in my mind at to what excellent dining should be. It was my first experience in a restaurant where we had a team of waiters, and the captain did not write anything down. When our meals arrived, our plates all touched the table at the same time. We were served from the left and upon completion of the meal our plates were collected from the right. It was top class all the way, and it ranks as my number one overall dining experience.

There are several other dining venues in New Orleans that provided amazing food experiences; Commander’s Palace, Brennan’s, The Rib Room. I think one of the best things about living there for six years was all the amazing food available in that city. I think one of the worst things about living in New Orleans was all the amazing food available in that city (see aforementioned weight gain).

I also fondly remember the dining experience of when I celebrated the one-year anniversary of my first marriage. We ate at Armani’s which is located at the top of the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.  The food and service were amazing, and it’s the only place in Tampa at which I’ve eaten that rivals those amazing dining experiences of New Orleans.

I can probably go on and selectively find a meal here or an event there that was very memorable. But if I had to narrow it down to just one; one meal that really stands out in my mind, I think I have to go with the one Lee and I shared November of 2005.

The restaurant was called Café Tsunami and it was located in Pinellas Park, Florida. I had introduced Lee to sushi earlier in the year, and she was immediately hooked. What made this particular meal memorable, in addition to the perfectly prepared and incredibly succulent tuna and salmon, was the meaning of that night. For Lee and me, it was our ‘starting over’ dinner.

Following eight months of an up and down, back and forth relationship, one in which Lee was surprised of what she wanted for our future and I wasn’t yet ready to let go of the past, Lee decided she could no longer stand to watch me self-destruct, and we split up.

As with all things, God intervened and Lee and I found ourselves at dinner after several weeks of not seeing each other. It was the first step in my growing up and me letting go of the baggage that had been weighing me down. I distinctively remember the feeling I had as the realization of it all swept over me. The best thing to have ever happened to me was sitting right in front of me, and she’d been there all along. I was just too blind and too stupid to have seen it before.

That dinner was a turning point for Lee and me, and I am not sure if I’d be here writing this blog post right now if not for that night. As far as meals go, I can’t think of anything more memorable than a moment like that.