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.

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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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Haters Gonna Hate

Haters Gonna Hate

It’s with disgruntled reluctance that I say congratulations to Tom Brady and the rest of the New England Patriots for their victory in Super Bowl XLIX. As a Miami Dolphins fan, it really irks me to see Brady hoist the Lombardi trophy for the fourth time; him standing there with his smug grin, super model wife, and UGG shoes.

I don’t think I’m alone in those feelings. I think outside the New England area, people are tired of seeing the Patriots succeed. I think many people were not so much pulling for Seattle as they were rooting against the Pats. It’s not unlike the Miami Heat with LeBron James. Even though they won only two championships, it seems fans nationally wanted them to lose all the time, and all other teams raised their game when going up against Miami.

That’s what happens when you elevate yourself to a level of greatness.

This dynamic is especially true in our spiritual lives. It’s been my experience there’s no greater hater than Satan himself. And when you start elevating your relationship with Jesus, the enemy works overtime to try and bring you down.

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I am so fortunate to have a perspective of how far I’ve come in my faith journey, and I can’t fathom gong back to the life I was living just six short years ago. Although I had belief in God, I was not living in Him. I was not fostering a relationship with my Lord, surrendering my troubles to Him and acting out of faith. Instead, I was living like a blind man, unable to see what God was showing me and unwilling to listen to His calling. I was distracted by the worldly things Satan put in my life on a daily basis. I was the proverbial seed that fell on rocky ground.

But I was able to get right with God and turn my life around. And since that moment, I’ve grown in my faith, made more time for His Word, and have seen great things happen in my life. Through my church, I’ve been baptized as an adult, given back to our community, traveled on a mission trip, and even preached in front of our congregation. I’ve definitely elevated my faith and my life to heights I’d never previously experienced.

…and then the hater of all haters showed up.

I recently had an experienced that shook me to my core. It rattled me, enraged me, and made me want to lash out at the world. It was the result of the enemy’s tactics, manipulating someone to cause others great pain. Six years ago I would have lashed out. I would have overreacted, most likely with rage and violence. But this journey I am on, a walk I share with Jesus Christ, has been a training of sorts. Every sermon I’ve listened to, both at church and via podcast, prepared me for that moment. Every reading plan in my Bible app prepared me for that moment. Every moment of prayer, both alone and with others, prepared me for that moment. In that moment, grace and wisdom prevailed.

Satan hates its when I focus on God and surrender myself to Him. Satan hates it when I work to be a reflection of God’s love to others. Satan can’t stand the fact that I have what he used to have; God’s love and a place in Heaven. So he does whatever he can whenever he can and through whomever he can to get to me and pull me down. And the stronger I grow in God, the harder Satan works to hinder me. As a Christ follower, I am called to invite others through my words and actions into God’s light, and that’s bad for business for the supreme of all haters.

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I never would have guessed it’s such a blessing to be hated.

“See how numerous are my enemies and how fiercely they hate me!” – Psalm 25:19

Clean and Lean

Today officially marks the end of the 28-day, Fast Metabolism Diet program Lee and I began back on January 6. As a matter of convenient clarification, I ended my program sometime yesterday afternoon. Let me explain.

Our goal, as we undertook the commitment to this new diet, was to lose weight. We were both tired of being too flabby around the edges and just sluggish every day. We bought the book, bought the cookbook, planned our meals, and, for the most part, managed to eat on schedule and eat what we prepared. Yes, there were some afternoons we’d forget to snack, and yes, there were sometimes when that, “eat every three to four hours” stretched to four and a half to five. Nevertheless, we completed the 28 days (27.5 for me) with resounding success. My wife dropped 12 pounds and 2 sizes (we’ve already been shopping for new clothes for her). I dropped 21.5 pounds, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this good in terms of having a continuous ‘bounce in my step’.

Still, all the planning in the world could not prevent us from having our program end on Super Bowl Sunday. Yikes! What were we going to do?

My wife didn’t care. She made sure to tell our friends hosting the Super Bowl party to not include us in their meal planning since we were going to bring our own food. Then she spent all of Saturday and part of Sunday preparing FMD compliant snacks, treats, veggie trays, and dinner (vegetable meatballs) for us to consume. For the record, everyone at the party raved about Lee’s non-dairy ranch dip. It was amazing.

With the exception of two mushroom and cherry mini-quiches (they were prepared by our friend Jason who is a chef, and they were spectacularly divine), and my four-pack of gluten free beer (I had to have some brew for the big game and I figured gluten-free would be a happy medium), I stayed on plan during the party. I thought I would just cave and revert back to my pre-FMD ways for the party (especially with the beer), but I did not want to risk feeling like absolute crap in the morning. I also didn’t want to have a huge setback after twenty seven and a half days of culinary discipline.

The thing is, I’m done with eating poorly. This FMD experience has been a ‘proof in the proverbial pudding’ trial that has lent tons of weight (pun intended) to what so many of my friends have been telling me for years: It’s about eating clean. The feelings of sluggishness and lethargy are gone. The afternoon headaches are gone. The episodes of having my stomach feel upside down are gone. I feel better, stronger, and more agile than I have in the past decade. The weight loss is just a bonus on top of the more healthy feeling and appearance I’m displaying.

The best example I can give is this. My mother-in-law Patsy, who lives with us, has also been participating in the FMD. In addition to the dietary changes, she also gave up her Coca Cola and smoking (all at the same time and all cold turkey). She, too, has lost 12 pounds. More importantly, her well being is noticeably better. We had a bit of a cold front pass through here in Florida, and Patsy mentioned how her arthritis would normally flare up with the cold weather. It didn’t this time around, and there’s no doubt in my mind it’s because of the change in diet and her improved nutrition.

Haylie Pomroy’s Fast Metabolism Diet has been a life changer for us, and we look forward to staying the course with regards to clean eating. Yes, we will introduce some items back into our diet, and we may not necessarily eat phase-specific,  but we are committed to not going back to processed foods, fast food restaurants, and impulse buys at the checkout counter. Those days are behind us, and it’s cleaner and leaner on the road ahead. A road, I like to think, that’s been made a little bit longer as a result of this lifestyle change.

Happy eating, everyone.

Nancy Peterson

Don’t Cry In Your Beer

I love advertising. When I was a kid, I dreamed about making commercials. I majored in Marketing at Tulane University because there was no option for obtaining an Advertising degree (although Loyola University right next door did offer Advertising as a degree *chagrin*).

If I ever were to pursue a Master’s degree, I would write my thesis on the concept that value cannot exist without human emotion. The concept of value is wholly dependent on an individual’s feelings. In fact, I would argue advertising and marketing are better suited as sub-sets of psychology than of business. After all, as a marketer, you’re attempting to key in on what will trigger a positive response in the consumer.

As an example, to my mom, a piece of cardboard measuring 2.5 by 3.5 inches with the picture of an athlete on it is basically worthless. To me, that 1984 Topps Dan Marino rookie card is priceless. Not only does it hold a market value that’s somewhere between $75 – $125, for me, it holds fond memories of my childhood. It takes me back to being in elementary school, sitting in the last row of the top section of the Orange Bowl, watching my beloved Dolphins take on the hated Jets.

What you consider valuable may differ from what I consider valuable, and the driving factor to that value is how we feel about a particular product or service. Savvy advertisers know this, and they do an excellent job tugging on your heart strings in order to better connect you to their product. I remember a Super Bowl ad for McDonald’s featuring pee-wee football. I remember holding back the tears as I watched because I played pee-wee football, and after every game, my dad would take me to McDonald’s. I was one of those little tykes in that ad, and McDonald’s became my fast-food restaurant of choice as a result.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love beer. I love the crispness of an ice-cold bottle of brew on a hot summer day when I’m working in the yard. I love experiencing new beers, from home brews to micro-brews to new products from the giant beer makers. I love going to a beer bar with 40+ draft options and needing to take 15 minutes to place my order. Beer is good (except for Coors Lite …… *bleh*).

I am particularly a fan of dark beers. I learned to drink dark beers by drinking Guinness, and even though I meander through the choices available – Left Hand Milk Stout is wonderful, BTW – I tend to end up back with Guinness. And that brings the conversation full circle. Not since the aforementioned McDonald’s ad have I seen a TV spot that literally moved me to tears. That is until I saw the newest spot for Guinness Beer. I will let you view and judge it for yourself, but I remember being mesmerized by the commercial the first time I saw it. It played on my emotions of competition, love of family, and character. It touched something inside me that resonated in my soul, and it reminded me that sometimes, an ad does more than just sell a product.

And the next time I’m at the bar, I will have Guinness and smile.

Championship Memories

October 26, 1997. Game 7 of the World Series. Marlins and Indians tied in the bottom of the 11th inning. Edgar Renteria at the plate, and he bloops a single over the glove of pitcher Charles Nagy and through the Indians’ infield. Craig Counsell trots home from third scoring the Series clinching run, and I start screaming like a mad man. Standing alone in my apartment, I race into the bedroom where my fiancé was sleeping. I wake her up with my yelling and incoherent blabbering. It would be three days before she speaks to me again.

October 25, 2003. Game 6 of the World Series. Josh Beckett on the mound for the Marlins, pitching on only three days’ rest, and trying to close out the series – on the road – against the vaulted Yankees. I’m once again standing alone in the family room of my house; pacing, sweating, praying. I’ve long since devoured my finger nails. My heart is racing at 120 beats per minute. Jorge Posada stabs at a pitch, making contact, and sending the ball dribbling up the first base line. Charging from the mound, Beckett scoops up the ball, tags Posada, and the Marlins are once again World Series champions. It would take me four days to get my voice back.

June 20, 2006. Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Dallas Maverick Jason Terry misses what would have been a game-tying three point shot, and the Miami heat hold on to win the game and their first ever NBA Championship. Standing alone in my apartment, I once again go into crazy person mode, and hope my neighbors don’t call the police because of all the yelling and screaming.

I remember vividly where I was for each of the recent championship-clinching moments for my beloved South Florida sports franchises. They are memories that are emblazoned into my brain; mental tattoos I will carry with me forever.

The same applies to other key sports moments I witnessed in my lifetime.

I remember jumping up and down with my dad in our living room as Kirk Gibson hit his majestic and legendary homerun to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. I remember yelling gibberish at the TV as I watched Marcus Allen weave his way through the Redskins’ defense in Super Bowl XVIII on his way to a 74 yard touchdown run. I even remember crying both a year before and a year later as I watched my Dolphins fail in Super Bowls XVII and XIX, respectively. The images of John Riggins plowing over Don McNeal and Roger Craig high-stepping into the end zone still haunt me as a sports fan.

But I recall more distinctly sharing those moments with my dad and other family members. I remember the laughing, the screaming, the cheering, and yes, the crying. I remember the euphoria and the sorrow those moments brought, but more so the fact I was able to share those emotions with the people I loved.

With the recent championships of both the Marlins and the Heat, however, what I specifically remember is that I was alone as I watched them happen. It was just me and my sports psychosis. The moments are still very memorable, but they don’t exactly rank with the memories from my childhood, where the smile on my dad’s face was outdone only by the smile on my face. Those moments were special, snapshots in time dipped in magic and sealed forever in that happy place that is the corner of my heart.

June 21, 2012. Game 5 of the NBA Finals. There was no drama. There was no suspense. For the better part of the 4th quarter, the Miami Heat held a twenty point lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The only things that were shocking were how dominating the Heat played to win their fourth consecutive game of the Finals, and Mike Miller’s lights out performance from 3-point range.

But one thing was spectacular as the clock ran down to zeroes and the Heat put a bow on their championship run. I watched the whole game with my daughter sitting right beside me. She laughed at my quirky mannerisms and ignored my sports Turrets as I yelled at the TV. She asked me why I spent so much time tweeting during the game. She indulged me as I felt the need to highlight and explain the nuances of the plays we’d just witnessed.

Yet through it all, we took in the historic moment together. I was able to watch her excitement build as the game progressed, as her eyes exploded open with every laser beam pass and gravity-defying dunk. I relished the sound of her pre-teen voice as she’d marvel, “that was awesome” or “that guy’s on fire.” She was less cheerleader and more a student of the game, but a fan nonetheless who was thrilled to see her dad’s favorite basketball team win it all. It would officially become her favorite basketball team that evening as well.

And as we took in the post-game festivities and watched LeBron James hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in poetic celebration, I noticed the only thing bigger than the smile on my face was the smile on the face of my daughter. I hope she, too, will carry that mental tattoo with her forever.

036/365 …Because I Can

Lee and I skipped the Super Bowl (first Super Bowl I haven’t watched in 21 years), and we did a movie instead. Following the film, we thought we’d head to our new favorite desert place in New Tampa – Cherry Berry – only to find they’d closed early because, well, they hadn’t had a customer since the game started.

This was apparent, too, by the fact the parking lot was basically empty. And since it was, I took advantage and took up four parking spots with my truck.

Why? …because I could.

P.S. If you ever want a glimpse as to how the Zombie Apocalypse is going to feel, go out on Super Bowl Sunday. The streets are eerily empty.