365 Days of Blessings – A Year in Review

There’s something healthy and heartwarming about taking time to look back and reflect on the recent moments of our life. As the year draws to a close, I, too, will take part in the unofficial tradition of recapping the year that was. This may be all over the place, so thank you in advance for your patience with my lack of cohesive thinking.

Kicking it Off
Lee and I rang in the New Year with our dear friends Jeff and Lindsey. It wasn’t a crazy, NYE bash. It wasn’t a bunch of people reciting resolutions and singing Auld Lang Syne. Instead it was just the four of us, sitting in their lanai, talking about everything, and, as we always do, growing closer in Christ and community. Jeff and Lindsey are one of the couples with which we can openly discuss our faith journey, and they make us stronger because we share the same walk with Christ; four individuals growing closer to Him by sharing in fellowship and family. There was also that part where we shopped to make supply bags for the homeless and took the boat out on January 1st. I also had the opportunity to preach at a special worship service at my church.

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The Transformation
The life changer – literally – came in the third week of the month when Lee and I traveled to the Dominican Republic to take part in the first ever mission trip for Relevant Church. The trip was very beta (we didn’t know what we needed to know), but it was eye-opening, informational, and just flat-out awesome. Partnering with SCORE International, we visited several villages in the vast sugar cane fields of Juan Dolio, a home for the elderly, an orphanage, and a house for women rescued from the nightmare of human trafficking.

It was all so amazing, and I wrote about my experiences while on the trip. The take-away, however, was what God would take away from my wife and me. As we returned home, our hearts were broken for Him and His will. Gone were the more material ambitions Lee and I shared for empty-nest life once my youngest graduates high school and goes off to college (2019). We had talked about downsizing and moving into a condo, perhaps in St. Petersburg. Instead, we left the D.R. feeling called to make the mission field the next chapter in our lives.

Lee and I decided to put things in motion to transition from 9-5 as we know it to full time missionaries in mid to late 2019. There was no doubt and no hesitation. We both knew it before we boarded the plane to come home that we’d be back, year after year, training and preparing to making serving others our new vocation.

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God’s Take Away
As I mentioned above, God made room in our heart for His calling by taking other ‘stuff’ out of the equation. This was immediately visible to us as we came home from our mission trip and literally boarded a cruise ship the next day for the floating music festival that is The Rock Boat. We love The Rock Boat. Not only is the music amazing, it’s also our chance to connect with friends we get to see only once per year. Our music family is such a big part of our lives, and TRB is the annual family reunion. For Lee and me, TRB XV was our seventh Rock Boat. It was also our last.

From the moment we stepped on the ship, we knew this chapter in our lives was coming to a close. Our bodies were on the Norwegian Pearl, but our hearts were still in the D.R. Instead of thoroughly enjoying the performance by Bare Naked Ladies on the Lido Deck, all I could think of was how for what I paid for the bucket of beer at my feet, I could feed a family of four for a week back in Juan Dolio. For the most part, the entire trip was a reminder of that, – and perhaps it’s not a good idea to get on cruise immediately after a mission trip – but louder than the amazing music was God’s calling that it was time to make more room for Him by saying goodbye to one of things we love so much.

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The Rest of January
Yes, there’s more for the month (and thank you for sticking with me this long). Coming back from TRB, we crashed at my friend’s house in Miami for a couple of days. This culminated in a fun Super Bowl party at his house and an impromptu drive to the Florida Keys. Lee had never made the drive to the Keys, and although we didn’t make it all the way down to Key West, the excursion was a new adventure for both of us to share, and we caught an amazing sunset in Key Largo.

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Spring Forward
In February we took in the State Fair (can you say ‘deep fried everything’?), and were fortunate to attend a fund raiser for John and Katie Zeller (Executive Director of SCORE International and his wife), at which we met the legendary Lou Piniella.

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In March we did something completely different and took some time off to attend the 12 Hours of Sebring. Again partnering with our cohorts Jeff and Lindsey, we camped for four days next to the track in an RV, drank way too much beer, and just had a fantastic experience.

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April and May saw us celebrate a milestone birthday for our close friend Ashley, another successful home rehab project through our church (be sure to check out the video), and my daughter’s soccer team winning a state title.

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Summertime, Ey!
In June we we had the wonderful fortune to take my daughter to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It was an amazing trip, and we fell in love with both cities. From museums to aquariums to stadiums and our first every Uber experience, the trip to the Pacific Northwest was once in a lifetime. We took in three World Cup matches, as well as a Seattle Sounders game. We got to see Abby Wambach play in her final World Cup, visited the original Starbucks, and went to the top of the Space Needle. It was an early 16th birthday gift for my daughter, and it created memories that will last a lifetime.

June

We celebrated the 4th of July on the East coast with Jeff and Lindsey, and our other dear friends Jeff and Ellen, who also share with us the same journey in Christ. Throw into the mix Nikki and David, Daryl and Kristi, a couple of boats, fun time on the water, and an excellent fireworks show, and it was one of the most memorable Independence Day celebrations of recent years. July also saw Lee travel to Eutaw, Alabama, to take part in a domestic mission trip organized by SCORE International.

We wrapped up the year with a couple of concerts, a great Q&A with Kevin Smith at the Improv in Tampa, and a camp experience with our favorite band Sister Hazel. Being able to take part in Camp Hazelnut with so many of our close friends was a great way to kickoff the Fall, and it allowed me to (partially) conquer my fear of heights as I made it to the top of the climbing tower.

Camp

I went back to school at Trinity College to pursue a degree in Christian Ministry, and we got to share Christmas services with Jeff and Ellen at both our church and their church. Being with loved ones during the holidays really made the season that much more memorable.

A Painful Passage
2015 was not without its hardships. In addition to her love for music, my wife has an incredible affinity for all things cats. We started the year sharing our household with four fur-babies (as my wife would call them). Unfortunately, we lost three of them in the span of three months, two of them in the same week.

In March we had to put our little Monkey to sleep after she developed a growth in her abdomen. At the beginning of June, after treating him for lethargy and lack of appetite, we had to do the same for our beloved Peppy. This was extremely gut-wrenching given Peppy was Lee’s special Angel-kitty, and he would always comfort her whenever she was not feeling well. Not more than five days after putting Peppy to sleep, we came home from dinner to find Boo in distress and agony (exactly what we wanted to avoid with Peppy). After a trip to the after-hour veterinarian, the only humane option was to put Boo down as well.

Devastating is such an understatement for what we experienced, and I know Lee put on a brave face in the weeks that followed. She battled every day to overcome the feelings of depression as well as the broken heart she was carrying, but I do know the experience brought her closer to God. As we search for answers to the things that make us cry, we inevitably turn to Him with our questions and burdens. The experience was a reminder that God works according to His timetable, our faith in Him does not remove us from the pains of this world, and we’re called to grow in Him when times are tough.

We miss our Boo, Monkey, and Peppy.
We miss our Boo, Monkey, and Peppy.

Doctor, Doctor
On the human side, we had more doctor’s visits in 2015 than we care to admit. Daniel broke his finger and required surgery and rehab, Natalie sprained the MCL in her right knee and also required rehab, and Lee had surgery to fuse her L5 and S1 vertebrae. Even I, as a result of a sudden (and temporary) loss of hearing in my left ear, required an MRI of my head and several follow-ups.

We blew through our flexible spending account half-way through the year, but the moral of the story is the blessing of having an FSA to begin with, and having the resources in healthcare to tend to our family’s issues as they occurred. The blessing is paying only $25 per office visit as opposed to the alternative. In looking at the bill for my son’s surgery and comparing it to the amount for which we were responsible, I was flabbergasted to think how people go through life without any health insurance.

The Reminder
365 days ago, as I was ready to ring in 2015, I had no idea of how differently my life would be in one, short year. There were several other low and painful moments in the year, as well as tons of super-awesome moments I’ve failed to mention in this recap. Life is like that; ebb and flow, up and down, hot and cold. Yet through it all, the one constant in all our lives is the love God has for us. We meander on earth while He remains steadfast and faithful in Heaven.

In looking back at the tough times, I am able to see the blessings. In reliving the good times, I am able to feel His love for me. In looking ahead at the goals and dreams I pray align with His will, I do so without fear and in the confidence He will provide no matter what.

2015 was filled to the brim with blessings. These blessings, in turn, lead to surrender. Surrender, coupled with obedience and discipline, leads anew to continued blessings from God. And in that cycle is exactly where I want to be heading into 2016.

Thank you for enduring this verbose year-in-review, and I pray you have a joyous, happy, and safe new year. May God’s grace guide you in all you do.

Joshua

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Adventure, Camaraderie, Companionship, Love, and Fun

I’m going to start with the obvious. Cancer sucks.

We’ll get back to that in a moment.

Miami is my hometown and Tampa is where I now reside. However, Orlando holds a special place in my heart. Yes, Disney is one of those reasons, but also because Orlando has been the host to so many music related memories for me. The nightlife in O-Town in electric, and the music scene is exceptional. I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours (and dollars) have been spent at the House of Blues Orlando experiencing the music and basking in the fellowship of my friends.

HOB is also a venue frequented by Sister Hazel. Lee and I have had the privilege of seeing them perform there nine times, and each show is equally fun and amazing. Unfortunately, the last time we saw them there was bittersweet. It was April of 2013, and it was the day our friend Dave Hewey lost his battle with Cancer. We got the news as we were pulling into the parking lot at Downtown Disney, and we knew our minds and hearts would be with his wife Lori and her son Colby that evening.

But as is usually the case with live music, something magical happened. Sister Hazel prepared to perform their song Karaoke Song, a song in which Dave and Lori are mentioned in the lyrics. As front man Ken Block introduced the song, he paid a quick tribute to Dave and spoke about what he meant to the Hazelnut community.

“Tattoo Dave would have liked us to play this song and have a great time because that guy’s entire life was about adventure, it was about camaraderie, it was companionship, it was about love, but most of all it was about fun.” Anyone who had the honor and pleasure of having known Dave would most certainly agree. Dave lived his life the way he wanted to live it, and his memory serves as an inspiration to me when I feel I am holding myself back. Trepidation, doubt, fear; I don’t think those were words in Dave’s vocabulary.

I think we all want to live our lives that way, free from our own limitations and full of a genuine appreciation for the living experience. A life that is lived with such passion and love, it merits being immortalized in the lyrics of a song by your favorite band.

Tattoo Dave
We love you, Dave, and miss you tremendously.

 

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]

UpLIFTed: Pt. 1

To say the music of Sister Hazel has changed my life would be an understatement. The genesis of the life I’ve lived since 2003 is rooted in their music, as well as in the community of the band’s fans known as the Hazelnuts. As I continue to come across milestones that represent the passing of the last decade, I would be remiss in not mentioning the influence of Sister Hazel in my life these past ten years. And in joining my wife’s current blogging project, I think I will take the next 3o days to write about the awesomeness that is Sister Hazel.

I have a very special connection to the band’s fifth studio album Lift. It was released ten days before my dad died, and at a time when my life was unraveling. There was so much anxiety, uncertainty, and pain in my life in the late Summer of 2004, one of the few solaces I had was diving into each song on the CD. Many of the tracks would resonate with me, some immediately, some over the following year.

I played it on repeat on my drive from Tampa to Miami before my dad’s passing. I listened to it incessantly as I was working on his eulogy. I still listen to it today when I need ….. well, a Lift in my day.

Lift

One of the songs that has left a tattoo on my soul is Lay It Down. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve come to appreciate the subtle spirituality of this song. To me, it’s a reminder of surrendering the burdens we carry, and letting go of the weight that holds us down. All too often we try to put on a strong face for others, when all we’re really doing is living in the white lie of the moment. It has been my experience that truth really does set you free. Only when we embrace the truth, and deal with the realities of life head on, can we allow ourselves to live to the fullest.

My (mis)adventures of 2005 brought this sentiment around full circle, and Lay It Down has become part of the foundation on which God has put me back together and built a ‘better me’. (that’s a tease of the next post)

If you’re not familiar with the song, I hope you will take a moment to give it a listen and allow it to be a positive beacon in your life the way it has been in mine.

“Lay It Down”

You need a little makeup dear
To cover up all your stains
With another trick right here, yeah
You fool them all once again

You need a little emptiness
Before you know what is real
And take a little taste of wine, yeah
To give yourself half a chance

And when you’re weak of holding on
Release your wayward soul

And with these treasures you have found
The broken pieces of your crown
It’s time to lay your cross on down

(Lay it down)
And with this kingdom you have now
It’s time to lay your cross on down
You better lay it down

You carry in a bright white lie
To cover up all your shame
You’re gonna have to testify
To color in all your claims

And when you’re weak of holding on
Release your wayward soul and
Spend your days not falling down
Before your empty idols
[Chorus]

Lay it down
(Lay it down)
Chorus

Succinctly

Today has been a reflective day for me. Thoughts, like a steam train in my head, rolling and rambling non stop. I’ve been thinking about my life, my relationships, my kids, and what happens next. The movie in my head has been a series of flash-cut scenes full of memories, ideas, and wishes yet to be fulfilled.

2014 is a milestone year for me. The past ten years have been whirlwind and amazing. I found myself taking mental inventory of the key moments, and I thought I’d capture them as best I could using a simple phrase.

2004: My world came crumbling down.

2005: I was a complete and total idiot.

2006: I was introduced to the most amazing friends ever.

2007: I jumped out of a plane.

2008: I took the most amazing trip ever.

2009: My world was made complete.

2010: I learned to change my mind.

2011: I got to climb poles for a living.

2012: Music guided me.

2013: I was reborn.

2014: …… so far, so good.

Memory Lane

It’s How You Choose To Look At Your Life

I saw a meme recently. It said something to the effect of, “Nothing makes you clean your house like a friend calling and saying he’ll be over in 10 minutes.” Lee and I are hosting our growth group on Wednesday night, and we’ve been in full cleaning mode since the workday ended.

Normally, this would be a gripe session about an aching back, tired muscles, and dry, cracked hands. But before I started cleaning, I took my wife’s advice by grabbing my mp3 player and listening to a sermon from Elevation Church. Now, I know it may sound strange to fill my time by listening to someone preach, but if you’ve never heard Steven Furtick preach, you’re missing out. This sermon, however, was delivered by Steven’s wife Holly, and it helped me remember to keep things in perspective.

Instead of being pissed about how dirty the grout gets, I should be thankful for the tile floors that decorate the house. Instead of getting furious at the cats that shed all over the place and leave nice, regurgitated ‘presents’ on my lanai, I should be thankful for the companionship they provide and the calm, soothing effect they have on my wife (she’ll be the first to tell you there is no better therapist than those with claws). Instead of fretting about having the house look perfect, I should be focused on the opportunity to invite my friends over and share in continued fellowship with them.

My favorite band Sister Hazel has a song called Change Your Mind. Before he performs it, lead singer Ken Block reminds the crowd that, “It’s not your life. It’s how you choose to look at your life.” All you have to do is change your mind.

So when you’re feeling stressed, change your mind. When you think you can’t, change your mind. When you feel alone, remember that He is always there for you. You just need to change the way you’re looking at your situation.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”Philippians 4:8 

Tasting Colors and Seeing Sounds

I love live music. For me, there’s nothing like it. When you’re invested in a particular band or artist, it makes it that much better.

As I’ve written before, Lee and I are huge fans of Sister Hazel. In many ways, the music of Sister Hazel helped bring us together. When things got really tough for us that first year we were dating, Hazel played a large part in keeping us together.

It’s hard to explain the power, passion, and emotion that goes into watching your favorite band play your favorite songs. Couple that with being surrounded by the friends you love, the very people that make up your music family, and it’s absolutely magical.

We had the privilege of catching Sister Hazel tonight for the 55th time (yes, we’re those types of fans), and it never ceases to be fun and exciting and amazing. My life has been transformed because of their music and the community of fans that music has created. I can’t imagine where I’d be without Sister Hazel, and I am so glad I’ll never have to find out. 

Here’s Lee’s and my favorite song. It is in so many ways “our song.”