The Great Provider

“Joshua traveled all night from Gilgal and took the Amorite armies by surprise.” – Joshua 10:9 NLT

This verse from the Book of Joshua is one on which I lean when I am going through a tough time. It is a reminder the realization of God’s glory is a two-way street. God delivers on His faithfulness, but only after we’ve moved to where He wants us to be so His glory can be realized. Only after we’ve marched all night long.

I have been training since December in preparation for the Gasparilla 5K on February 20. It will be the first 5K I’ve run in well over a decade, and I hope it is the starting point of a new running routine in this stage of my life.

The workout runs have left me tired and sore. Even though I have not been running every day, I am tired every day. This morning I woke up suddenly at 4:00 AM. I could feel how tired my body was, and I literally cried at the knowledge my alarm would be going off in 90 minutes, because the last thing I wanted to do was get up and run.

I prayed that God give me rest. It was that whole, “C’mon, God, you help me and I’ll obey you” kinda prayer. That’s not how faith works, but that was my mindset at that moment.

5More

At 5:30, when my alarm went off, I felt – quite miraculously – amazing. I got up, got dressed, read my Bible plan for the day, and headed off to the gym.

Now, it’s been my experience that God speaks to me through the music to which I listen while running. Today was no exception. I was working hard to press through fatigue and the pain in my hips from carrying this extra weight around my midsection (i.e. beer gut). But there I was, on a treadmill facing East, watching the dawn give way to a beautiful sunrise. Just as the sun cleared the tree line, washing my face in His glorious light, the song The Shadow Proves The Sunshine by Switchfoot came on my playlist. No doubt it was God delivering His glory, rewarding me for my obedience, and giving me the strength to get through my run.

Sunrise

The burning in my thighs, the pain in my hips, the tightness in my tendons: all were reasons for me to end my workout early, something I’d done before on more than one occasion. But today, God gave me the push to keep going. To persevere. To march all night long.

When you feel you can’t go on, remember the shadow is proof of the sunshine, and God is always there wanting you to trust in Him, asking you to surrender that burden to Him. Lean in to the knowledge that He is faithful, and that we, too, must do our part to realize the joy He has in store for us.

Decades and Decibles

I’ve mentioned before how the tempest season in my life was from September 2004 – December 2005. Although there were a lot of great memories made in that time span, I used to look back on that period and remember mostly the pain.

Today marks the ten-year mark of the end of that season. Ten years ago today, my world as I knew it (as I wanted to know it) came to an end. I was left battered and beaten, face down in my own rock-bottom reality.

Following this event, God steered me to where He wanted and needed me to be. He began the process of taken my broken and making something beautiful out of it. I couldn’t see it at the time, but in looking back over the last ten years, it’s clear as day that is what He did.

As I look back on that time, I see the path He laid out for me and the journey I’ve been able to travel with my now wife Lee. I no longer see the pain that used to be there. I no longer feel the angst and restless despair that clouded my judgement and stunted my growth in the early part of 2006. That noise that was deafening is now completely gone.

It is such a blessing to be able to look back and see the positives, all the while appreciating the knowledge it was the negative that made it possible. It’s the serenity of the calm drowning out the noise of the past.

As I checked out my Facebook feed this morning, the very first post I saw was one from writer Mitch Albom. It was so very appropriate and I know it was a gift from God to remind me of how far I’ve come since that evening ten years ago.

Mitch

Having watched Star Wars : The Force Awakens this weekend (saw it twice), there is a line from the character Maz Kanata that ties in nicely to this post. It is something I wish someone would have told me when I was struggling to see past the next day of my disarrayed life.

“Dear child, the belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.”

Tough times come and tough times go. Life is not easy, and Jesus never said it would be. But by surrendering our troubles to the Lord, we’re able to overcome our obstacles, grow in love and faith in him, and find the joy and peace God makes available to us.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

 

 

 

 

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Saying Goodbye to Peppy

There are times when the only thing you can say is, “Life sucks!” Yes, there are the expected ups and downs, but sometimes those downs take us to very painful lows.

In May of 2000, my wife’s father passed away. His battle with Cancer cost him the bones in his leg, but eventually it was the Cancer treatment that cost him his life. Shortly after he succumbed to his illness, God sent Lee an angel in the form of a cat. Peppy became an instant guardian of the still grieving young woman who also happened to be a cat lover. As crazy as it sounds, Lee is convinced her dad’s soul found a home in Peppy’s furry self. And I am convinced, too, given how protective Peppy has always been around Lee.

Of all the previous cats she had before, Peppy was quickly and uniquely her favorite. After a tough day, Peppy would be there to take away the stress. Propped like a baby on her shoulder, Peppy would quickly make everything better.

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This evening, Peppy’s magic remedy is greatly needed …. and he is sorely missed.

Diagnosed with feline Cancer, Peppy stopped eating and drastically dropped in weight.  Having seen a previous cat suffer with illness not too long ago, Lee made the difficult decision to have Peppy put to sleep this morning. As painful a decision as it was, she definitely did not want to see him suffer any more than he already was, and she did not want her last memories of Peppy to be a skeletal shadow of his former self. To say she is devastated is an understatement. In the midst of her ‘life sucks’ mourning, the only thing she’s been able to do is to curl up in bed and forget about life for a while.

I will admit, it wasn’t until I met and married Lee that I was able to understand the impact of pet loss on most people. I love animals and grew up with dogs and cats, but I was never devastated with what I knew was the eventuality of losing a pet. I was flabbergasted when I realized, at the age of thirty, that Hallmark makes condolence cards for a deceased pet.

And this sense of distance came in handy today as my wife needed a rock to lean on in her grief. It would have been clumsy and awkward if we both had the same level of distress today in dealing with Peppy’s passing. Instead, Lee was able to focus on those final moments with him and not have to worry about much else but dealing with the pain in her heart.

I know our life together will have its ups and downs, and I can only pray the good times far outnumber the bad ones (and in the past 10 years since I first met Lee, they certainly have). But in addition, I pray we will always be this great team together, balancing each other out, and lifting each other up when needed.

My wife lost her best furry friend today, but at least she has the shoulder of her best human friend to cry on.

Rest in Peace, Peppy. You were a character, you were unique, and you will be missed.

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UpLIFTed: Pt. 2

Very few people really enjoy starting anew. Personally, I very much try to avoid getting out of my routine and taking on something new. That is the primary reason I found myself flabby and lethargic at the end of 2013, and feeling simply disgusted with myself.

This year, Lee and I decided to do something about it, and we not only changed what we ate but how we ate. Going through that lifestyle change was difficult, but it was worth it. Looking back on the past year, nine months removed from that first day of ‘diet’, I can’t fathom the idea of eating some of the stuff we had been eating on a regular basis. What is maltodextrin anyway?

We’re also six weeks into a regular fitness routine. Our new normal is waking up early to be at the gym at 5:00 AM. It was grueling at first, but we both enjoy the extra energy we now have as a result of getting our heart going so early in the day. We’re also starting to see the subtle muscle definition that comes with working out (almost) daily.

What does this have to do with Sister Hazel you ask?

Back in late 2004, when my life hit rock bottom, there was one song that almost literally defined my existence. It’s a song I would turn to when I had nothing and no one else. And it’s a song I consider to be an example of lyrical genius.

Depressed

The song is called Another Me and it is on the album Lift. It tells the story of a person’s struggle to get through the tough time, to get back to some sense of normal.

And I’m waiting for another me
One that can change the pain of yesterday
Carry me through another day

That was my everyday for the better part of six months. Taking showers until I was shivering from the hot water having run out. Crying myself to sleep. Drinking myself to sleep. Feeling delirious because I hadn’t slept in 32 hours. All the time waiting for ‘another me’ to show up.

I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t realize that season in my life was a process I had to experience in order for that ‘another me’ to arrive. Not unlike starting and sticking to a new diet or workout regiment, getting from bad to good takes time. There is no fast forwarding through the process, no matter how much it sucks or how badly you desire to get there.

I am blessed to have the ability to look back and see the path that lead me to where I am today. I’ve learned many things from those moments, the most important being that it does get better. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true. The key is not to get there overnight; that’s never going to happen. The key is to make tomorrow just a little bit better than today.

What’s really ironic is that in my darkest moment, I lost faith in God. He, however, was faithful to me, and He opened my eyes to the reality of what I needed to face and overcome. By placing my faith back in Him, God delivered ‘another me’.

“Another Me”

Diggin’ in for another day
Carrying on in my own
But you know me
I live and die nearly every day
Insanity, it’s havin’ its way with me

These days in the gallows
I’m kneeling at the block
With my neck outstretched
And I should’ve stayed in the shallows

But you know me, I’m in too deep
And I’m waiting for another me
One that can change the pain of yesterday
Carry me through another day
And I’m waiting for another me
One in between the burn
And the lessons learned
‘Cause being me ain’t no way to be

I’m talking law down at Murphy’s Bar
Unhappy hour on my own last call
Calling me out on my living lie
Looking for luck I can’t even buy
[Chorus]

Give me one chance at recovering
What was lost
And give me one shot at redemption
At any cost
Repair my way before it breaks me
Don’t break me

Hello did you notice me
Can’t you see that I’m crumbling down
Tired of the same old same
I’m coming to
I’m coming back around
[Chorus]
[Chorus]

Wounded

Writing has always been therapeutic for me. Although my blog has evolved over the past decade when I started writing, it still remains where I go to deal with the lemons life throws my way.

Tonight is no exception.

There is an irony in writing, one that parallels the experiences of my faith journey.  I have found that God is always able and willing to turn our broken into something beautiful. Similarly, the most productive muse I’ve ever encountered is one called pain. Pain has fueled some of my favorite posts, and she continues to move me to write. Thankfully, however, she’s stayed away from me for some time. But she did pop her head into my life this week, and this is what that visit produced.

Wounded 

Wounded

Three Six Five Four

You’ve heard the old cliché: Time to close this chapter in your life.

Have you ever had a season in your lifetime that was more like closing a book …. and moving on to a new book ….. in a different library ….. on the other side of town? That was my 2004.

I’m a big fan of milestones. It’s amazing to me that in January, I will hit the mark of having lived in Tampa longer than I did in my hometown (17 year, 6 months). Last June, I celebrated my five year wedding anniversary with my wife. Just last month, I reached seventeen years of service with my employer. It really is amazing how time flies.

But now as we’ve reached the end of Summer 2014, I am hitting a new set of decade-long milestones in my life. The second-half of 2004 was brutal for me. In addition to dealing with the savaging hurricanes that pummeled Florida that summer, my life was – for lack of a better phrase – in a free fall.

My marriage had dissolved. I was living at my friend’s house, getting by on a steady diet of beer (as in cases) and no sleep. I was unsure of what each day would bring, and, in poetic parallel to Mother Nature’s wrath, everything seemed like a dizzying whirlwind.

As if that weren’t enough, it was 10 years ago yesterday – 3,654 days – that my father passed away.

His passing was expected. Having been diagnosed in the summer of 2002 with Mesothelioma, we knew the outlook for my dad’s life was not a long term one. He underwent chemo and battled his cancer, along the way prolonging his life just enough to sneak in some extra memories with his grand children. I remember shortly after his diagnosis he and I went out for beers, no longer sharing a father-son relationship, but rather one of friends. For one night, we were drinking buddies, and I remember laughing at the fact I out-drank my dad and had to proverbially carry him home.

Losing my dad was tough. In the time following his death, I’d still pick up the phone to call him during Miami Dolphins games. As my kids took up recreational soccer, I’d anguish inside at the fact he was no longer around to see them play. My mentor for all things DIY was gone. I didn’t just lose my dad. I lost my friend and my hero. Although the memory of my dad still influences me and what I write, it’s not the same as if he were still alive.

They say time heals all wounds. There is some truth to that. Wounds do heal, but some wounds never disappear. After ten years, I can still see in me the void that exists with the absence of my father. My life is amazingly better today than it was at this time ten years ago (a testament to God’s amazing grace and His ability to put us back together). But I still miss my dad, and I am saddened that he never got to know the me I am today. I know he was proud of me, but the me he knew in his final days was a lie. I showed him a facade to keep him from seeing the lying, cheating, and broken man I was at that time.

I hope that when it comes time for us to meet again in Heaven, he’ll meet me with a hug and with the words, “You did good, son.” The book of Matthew teaches us to store our treasures in Heaven. In trying to be the best dad to my kids that I possibly can be, I like to think I’m doing just that. 

My eulogy for my father

Dad

Yoga To Be Kidding Me

My wife and I are in the middle of a wonderful, ten day vacation at the Hard Rock hotel in Cancun. It’s been a wonderful experience so far, and the fact we’re here until the 14th makes me giddy with excitement.

We’ve also made no secret about eating cleaner and dropping weight, a lifestyle change we decided to do together at the beginning of the year. As part of that change, we’ve both realized that we need to couple clean eating with physical fitness. Although it pains me to say that with the recent traveling/vacationing we’ve been doing, I’ve put on some (and my some I mean most) of the 30 pounds I had shed (thank you, beer), I am proud to say we’ve worked out a couple of time so far on this trip.

One of those workouts was this morning.

We got up and figured we do the same thing we did last Friday. Hit the gym at the hotel, my wife on the treadmill, me on the elliptical. The difference with today was that we woke up a little bit later than we wanted to, and when we arrived at the gym, there was an instructor there. (Believe it or not, we did our first workout at 6:30 AM).

The instructor greeted us and asked us if we had any questions. She also told us of the classes available should we be interested. In particular, the yoga class would start in 30 minutes. Lee looked at me with wide-eyed excitement – she’s been taking Pure Barre classes – and I, in the spirit of being an adventurous and supportive husband, shrugged my shoulders and said, “Why not?”

Now …. I’ve drank shots I can’t pronounce, some of them having been on fire. I’ve done some crazy-ass _____ in my day, but I can’t, for the life of me, think of spontaneous decision that ended up being so ….. well, physically painful (although there was that time in high school I dove off the pier in South Beach only to belly-flop in spectacular fashion).

Plain and simple, yoga kicked my ass.

I sweated three times as much doing yoga as I did 30 minutes on the elliptical. I now have soreness in muscles that I haven’t used since Clinton’s first term. Most importantly, I have a new-found respect for everyone that does yoga on a regular basis.

It was also a very educational experience for me, and I thought I’d share some of my findings with my fellow brothers in case they’re interested in giving yoga a shot.

  • As flexible as you think you may be, you’re not. Yoga will expose you for the concrete column that you are.
  • There is no comfortable clothing for men for yoga. Boxer briefs and basketball shorts make something that ridiculously hard even harder.
  • Although you may be the only male in the class, the notion you’re going to enjoy the ‘eye-candy’ effect of yoga is put to rest in the first 30 seconds. You’re going to spend the rest of the class trying as hard as you can to not throw up (or fart).
  •  The ‘child’ or resting pose is relaxing ….. if you don’t have a beer gut. Otherwise, it’s a great way to asphyxiate yourself since your stomach rolls up into your chest and doesn’t allow you to breathe.
  • Whereas, “How much can you bench?” was the measure of how strong you are, the real test is, “For how long can you hold a bow pose?”

Child Pose

Guys, if you’ve ever scoffed at yoga – as I have in the past – and thought it’s only a chick thing, I’m here to tell you it’s one of the most exhausting workouts you can do. It’s also one of the most serene because it forces you to focus on so much of what going on with your body: breathing, balance, mental fortitude. Grunts are replaced with exhales. Posing in front of a mirror replaced with meditating on your inner-self.

The soreness in my legs and hips and arms and wrists tell men that signing up for the class was a big mistake. I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow and do it again.