Reflections on Blessings

Reflections on Blessings

I can only imagine how difficult this Thanksgiving Day is for so many people. In a year that brought us the tragedy of a pandemic, the fallout of economic downturn, and the futility of partisan politics, I can see where someone might struggle to feel grateful.

We all have our struggles and we all have our pains. But given a year that has left so many bereft of joy, we find blessing in the little things of our every day. Blessing is the mortar that binds us together in the most difficult of times. Blessing is all around us. We just have to look.

It’s in the friendship that endures time and is always there for you, good or bad.

It’s in the child you never thought you could have, but thanks to science, technology, and Gods’ grace you are holding her in your arms.

It’s in the parent who sacrificed of herself so you can realize a dream.

It’s in the neighbor who tends to your plants when you go away for the weekend.

It’s in the manager at work who understands and empathizes with your situation and allows you to leave a little early so you can be home for your children.

It’s in the pet that loves you unconditionally and can’t wait to slobber you with kisses when you get home.

It’s in the nurse who cared for your father while he was ill as if she were caring for her own family.

It’s in the college roommate who still checks up on you all these decades since you both graduated.

The list is endless. If we all stopped and took a moment, we could come up with an array of people, moments, experiences, and opportunities for which we’re thankful. Even amidst the craptastic-ness of 2020, there is so much thanksgiving to be had.

My prayer for all of us is to take a couple of minutes of the 1,440 minutes God has given us today and to quietly and privately give Him thanks. It could be one thing. It could be all the things. But by focusing on gratitude, we take a step toward healing, growing, and coming together as members of His family, and I think we can all agree feeling good and positive is something every one of us can use this year.


Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. May God’s blessing be upon you.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

What Are You Talking About?

What Are You Talking About?

“You have to speak to someone about this. You need help!”

I ignored my wife’s pleading as I bashed the oak tree with a baseball bat, the impact of the aluminum causing reverberations to carry up my arms and into my shoulders.

“Just stop. Please stop. Talk to me. Talk to a therapist. Talk to someone! Just stop this right now.”

That was Spring of 2018. A conversation with my lawyer went sideways and things, as the kids say, escalated quickly. My attorney, who also happened to be a longtime friend, fired me. We haven’t spoken since.

I wish I could say that was the last time I was that angry. I wish this post was one of those, “Here’s a happy ending to this tumultuous period in my life,” kinda’ stories. It’s not and, unfortunately, I can’t tell you when that will be.

In literature, Aristotle introduced the idea of hamartia, which in Greek means “to err.” We commonly refer to it as a tragic flaw, a literary device used to define a trait in a character leading to her or his downfall. Since I was a kid, you can say my tragic flaw has been my temper. Anything that didn’t go my way or make perfect sense to me lead to an inevitable ‘hulk out’ moment.

I feel my life has been one long work in progress to get this aspect of my personality under control. It’s almost pattern-like: every time I look at the biggest regrets of my life, the fingerprint of my temperament – and my inability to manage it – is all over those memories.


“Just talk to someone.”

For years, my wife has been urging me to get counseling. In stereotypical fashion, I ignored her. I figured relying on my prayer routine and focusing on Scripture is all I need to get over this hurdle. I wasn’t completely incorrect, but I wasn’t right either. Learning to surrender to God those moments that led to angry outbursts helped. It helped me a lot. But I also realized there is a clinical aspect of this that I am not capable of resolving on my own.

Last month I started seeing a counselor. We’ve only had two sessions, but I am very pleased with how our conversations have gone so far. To say they’ve been insightful is an understatement, and I am looking forward to taking these next steps in terms of exploring what is at the root of my anger issues and what I can do to manage it.

All this to say that in a life with its fair share of regrets, I regret not listening to my wife sooner. I am sorry it took me this long to get on a path of emotional wellness. I have no idea where this journey will lead me (and if you know me, you know this falls WAY outside my comfort zone), but I am going to trust the process, trust my doctor’s expertise, and trust God’s providence in all of this.

I’ve been walking the walk all these years. It’s about time I stopped and talked the talk.

In The Beginning

In The Beginning

Sunday, March 1, 1987. A fourteen-year-old kid arrives at the Orange Bowl in Miami with his older brother and cousin to see the rock band Genesis. It was his first concert ever. That boy was me.

Music is such an integral part of my life and my love of music was born from the influence of my older cousins. It was they who introduced me to the magic of Billy Joel, Elton John, and Genesis. It was my curious study of their respective album collections that opened my eyes – and ears – to the likes of Peter Frampton, The Who, and David Bowie. And it was on a cool Sunday evening that I stood in the stands of the legendary Orange Bowl with sixty-seven thousand other fans to take in musical talents of Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, and the incomparable Phil Collins.

Phil Collins would become one of my favorite musical performers. His work, both as a solo artist and as the frontman for Genesis, would create a musical baseline for my life that can only be described as comfort food for my ears. The relationship with Collins’ music would only be enhanced given its integration with the show Miami Vice. As a wide-eyed teen enamored with the glamorous portrayal of my hometown on the small screen, it was so cool to hear Phil’s music featured on the show (he had a single from each of his first three albums included in the series).

The impact of music in my life would explode in 2006 when I was introduced to the group of people I affectionately refer to as my music family, and I am always seeking a connection with a song that transcends just melodies and harmonies. Every once in a while, there is a song that resonates lyrically and speaks to my soul. It may be my mood at that moment, it may be the situation I am experiencing, it may be something I am longing or dreaming to do; music has a way of hooking into those emotions and making an indelible mark.

That’s what happened recently when I found myself sorting through old 45 records from my childhood. I’d brought them home with me from Miami following my mother’s passing, and I randomly decided to put on on the record player and give it a listen. I had been praying and pondering about a decision, one that would mean the opening and closing of doors in my life.

And then God spoke to me.

We said goodbye to a dear old friend
And we packed our bags and left feeling sad
It’s the only way
We said hello as we turned the key
A new roof over our heads
Gave a smile
It’s the only way
Only way

Turn your head
And don’t look back
Set your sails for a new horizon
Don’t turn around don’t look down
Oh there’s life across the tracks
And you know it’s really not surprising
It gets better when you get there

I’ve said it before, coincidence is just God showing off. And at this moment, with the nostalgic crackling and hiss of the phonograph in the background, God made His answer to me loud and clear.

When we’re faced with a tough and uncomfortable choice, sometimes all there is to do is listen.

 

Hotline to God

Lee and I met this afternoon with Pastor David Rogers of CrossPointe Church in Valdosta. CrossPointe has been our church home these last several months as we’ve been residing in Hahira, GA, while we waited for our house to sell. The house sale is the last, big obstacle in our preparation to move to the Dominican Republic, and we were explaining this to Pastor David in our meeting.

I told David I trust God, but I’ve been reluctant to assume everything will be fine with our June 5 closing date because anything can happen. At the conclusion of our meeting, Pastor David prayed over us, and he specifically asked God to bless our calling and ensure a successful closing on our house.

Lee and I left the meeting and headed to our next appointment. It was during that drive that we received an email from our title company stating the buyers had requested we move the closing date to June 1 (this Friday!!!). After scrambling to make arrangements, we agreed to the new date. However, I honestly feel it was God immediately answering Pastor David’s prayer for us.

God is amazing and faithful and awesome!

Fast and the Furious (Stomach)

Fast and the Furious (Stomach)

I believe firmly in the power of prayer. I’ve seen miracles happen and have personally been impacted by prayer. But one thing I’ve never done as part of my prayer life is fast.

…until now.

In preparation for Easter, CrossPointe Church invited its congregation to take part in a fast from 6:00 PM Thursday to 6:00 PM Friday. Having been in the service last Sunday when this was announced, Lee and I decided to join the members of CrossPointe and fast. We have much about which to pray, specifically our house for sale in Tampa, and we know this period of sacrifice will allow us to focus on our conversations with God.

I am sure many people are like me, not too familiar with fasting or the how’s and why’s of fasting with regards to our prayer life. What I do know is that it’s a conscious effort on my part to be intentional with prayer. When I would normally stop to eat, I will fill that time with prayer. When I am feeling hungry, I will ignore what my stomach is telling me and spend time with God. Jesus sacrificed Himself for me. Surely I can sacrifice food for 24 hours.

Fasting.jpg

Still, if you’re wanting to more information about how fasting improves your prayer life, visit the post below from Crosswalk.com.

5 Ways Fasting Can Change Your Life

Birthday Girl

Birthday Girl

Today is an extra special day here in Hahira, Georgia, as we celebrate the birthday of our friend (and current house-host) Lindsey Smith.

I’ve known Lindsey for over a decade, and to say we’ve done life together is an incredible understatement. When I think about some of the best, most fun, and amazing moments in my life, Lindsey is a part of them. In most recent years, the friendship and fellowship Lee and I have shared with her and her husband Jeff have been life-changing.

I could go on for pages and pages about how wonderful and special Lindsey is, but instead, I want to focus on a specific attribute of Lindsey’s: her faith. Lindsey is a spiritual leader who is moved and driven by the Holy Spirit. I greatly admire the relationship she shares with Christ, and not only has Lindsey made me a better person throughout the years, she’s also helped make me a better Christian.

So I think it fitting to share this picture of us from 2007 when we both jumped out of a plane for a good cause. There was a lot of excitement and frivolity leading up to the jump, but when it came time to suit up and get on the plane, Lindsey huddled us together and lead us in prayer. At that time in my life, I was still far away from God, and having her boldly pray out loud for us without hesitation or reservation really left an imprint in my heart.

OSD

I know her friendship will continue to leave an imprint on my heart for decades to come.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LINDSEY!

My Brother From Another Mother

My Brother From Another Mother

Have you ever met someone who is almost identical to you in personality, hobbies, and other characteristics? That’s how it is with me and my friend Kevin Von Maxey. We’re both diehard University of Miami fans. We’re also both longtime suffering Dolfans as well. We both share the same Mount Rushmore-esque affinity for Dan Marino, and we’re both sports geeks in general. Add to that our quirky sense of humor, love of movies, and overall desire to be witty and smart in just about every situation, and you’ve got yourself personality twins separated at birth.

I met up with Kevin and his family this evening. As part of our downsizing experience, it was obvious to me Kevin needed to be the recipient of all my Dolphins and Hurricanes memorabilia and collectibles. With all apologies to his wife April (part of me felt I was just dumping my junk into their lap), I handed over to Kevin items that helped shape and define my childhood growing up.

To say Kevin was appreciative is an understatement, and I know he’ll be like a kid on Christmas morning once he starts going through all the items in the bags and boxes (yes, plural) that I gave him. I also know Kevin will be geeking out with his sons Taylor and Alex as he explains the details of every item in that collection.

I’ve known Kevin and April for over a decade, great friends that, like so many others, I met through the music of Sister Hazel. Although our interactions have been limited given the geographic distance between our families, Lee and I share many great memories with K&A, mostly post-concert shenanigans involving diner food and storytelling. And with Kevin, I could always pivot to anything Dolphins or Canes related and he wouldn’t miss a beat.

VM1

VM2

But I want to pivot this blog post to something not involving football or music. I want to write about the power of prayer and how, I believe, an army of prayer warriors helped save April’s life last year. I will let the video below tell the details of the story, but I will add my recollection to April’s life-threatening experience. So many people from so many walks of life, many of whom would not call themselves spiritual, came together to rally for April.

I remember praying diligently and intentionally for her recovery, and the fact I was able to give her a big hug this evening is a reminder that God honors our big prayers. I believe He specifically honors the prayers of a collection of people coming together with laser focus to plead for His healing abilities. At the end of the day, that is the church. And no one will ever convince me otherwise the reason April is alive today is that so many people came together to pray for her. It was those prayers that gave her body strength. It was those prayers that guided the medical team treating April’s illness. It was those prayers that allowed Kevin to navigate the terrorizing uncertainty of that experience.

Social media is a great platform through which people can request spiritual support. Whatever the reason, whatever the season, someone always needs our prayerful help. April’s story is a testament to the power of prayer.

Project Gratitude – My Army

Project Gratitude – My Army

Prayer is a powerful thing, and I am a firm believer in prayer. Today I am thankful for this avenue God gave us that provides direct communication with Him.

In the book of Genesis is the story of Enoch, a man who walked, “faithfully with God.” I believe prayer, in conjunction with other instruments of faith such as fasting and devotion, allow us to experience this same ‘walk’ with God.

Prayer

And although we should pray always, praising His name and in a spirit of thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6), prayer tends to be most common in a time of need.

Much has been said about the negative effects of social media in society, and several aspects of this criticism are valid. I instead want to focus on the positive value of social media, primarily, the ability to rally prayer warriors.

I love the passage in the Book of Ephesians that describes the Armor of God. I think of it as a way to prepare daily against the weapons the enemy uses to distract us from God.

armor

So today, when I went to Facebook and asked for the support of my tribe of prayer warriors, each armed with the knowledge of Christ who lives in their hearts, they responded in full force.

My request was for Lee’s Aunt Mary who recently suffered a stroke. At almost seventy-four years old, the ability to overcome a stroke is made more challenging. Still, nothing is impossible with God.

When over fifty individuals raise their intentions to the Lord, I believe He honors that collective faithfulness. And what a blessing it is to see the response from friends and family as the pray for Aunt Mary. Not only is it tangible, it’s also inspiring and uplifting.

Today I am thankful for Facebook. I am also thankful for the amazing community of family and friends that support me in all I do. It’s a beautiful blessing.

I ask you keep Mary in your prayers. May God’s healing spirit guide her to a full recovery.

Retreat and Surrender

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:

When you’re having a bad day with your mental health, what do you do to help yourself?


Where do I even begin?

I guess, since this is November, I have to start with Thanksgiving. Not the holiday, but rather the ever-present need to be thankful for all God has given me.

I am thankful for not being afflicted with a clinically diagnosed mental health issue (although I have members in my family who have). I am thankful for not be saddled with a medical condition that requires a daily regiment of medications (although I have members in my family who have). I am eternally grateful for the health and well being of my two teenage children (although I have members in my family who can’t say the same).

Yes, life sucks sometimes. It’s cruel and unfair and it can be consistently inconsistent. Yet for every crappy day, my experience has taught me it can always be worse. I know that sounds quaint or trite, and yes, I know I’m perhaps oversimplifying the big picture; but there is truth in the anecdotal, albeit cliché saying, “this, too, shall pass.”

There is no one right answer for handling adversity or managing those ‘mental health’ days. The prescription for getting through the storm is as unique as our fingerprints. Still, as a person of faith, I believe there is one common denominator.

I used to surrender my crap to really, really loud music. Pop in the Van Halen, turn the volume up to eleven, and just let Eddie’s shredding on his guitar take me far away from where it is I was. When that didn’t work, I’d hand my problems over to alcohol. My happy place was inevitably found at the bottom of a bottle of booze. But ear drum and liver damage aside, what I was truly wrecking was my soul.

booze

Over the last decade, I’ve learned that everything in my life begins and ends with God. To put it in a mathematical analogy, He provides the parenthesis of my minutes, hours, days, years, and life.

(me), where ( = God and ) = God

Not only is this perspective highly effective when it comes to pressing through the tough times, it is absolutely liberating as well. Being able to surrender my problems to the Lord has helped me elevate above the worldly problems that arise and overcome them while minimizing the mental and emotional impact on my life. Please don’t get me wrong, just because I believe in God and have a relationship with Christ does not mean my life is easy and nothing bad ever happens. That’s not what I am saying. Rather, when the *bleep* hits the fan, dealing with it all becomes a less stressful situation because of my faith in Him.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

– John 16:33 NIV

For me, it all begins and ends with prayer. Effective, focused, and intentional prayer is how I get through the ‘mental health’ days. Sometimes God is immediate with His blessings and opens my eyes to the solution I am seeking. Sometimes He’s not, and the blessing is in the growth that results from the pressing through the tough time. Either way, I’ve found that when I make my time with God a PTA meeting (Praise, Thank, then Ask), there is no problem too great for Him to resolve.

PTA

When tough times arise, I now turn down the volume of the world and inebriate myself with the Holy Spirit. It’s not always easy, but that’s the thing with faith; it’s not supposed to be.


nablopomo

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