Project Gratitude – Getting Ugly

Project Gratitude – Getting Ugly

In the summer of 2006, at a music event in South Carolina, Lee and I were introduced to what we now affectionately refer to as our music family. I literally do not know where we would be without the impact this tribe of music-loving lunatics has made in our lives.

Because of our music family, we taken part in amazing floating music festivals, developed deep, inner-circle friendships, traveled to places we most likely never would have on our own, and I’ve even jumped out of a plane.

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In fact, it was one of our music family members that introduced us to our church, an event that has truly transformed our lives.

Tonight was no exception. Our friends Jen and Joe hosted their annual Ugly Christmas Sweater party, and since we took part in last year’s shindig, there was no way we could miss this one.

Jen has quite the talent for not only hosting parties, but also making sure they’re entertaining with ice-breakers, games, and – apparently – a well defined, almost Germanesque sense of schedule. But in all seriousness, it was a great time. And it’s not about the prizes for ugliest sweater or the dirty Santa gift exchange. It’s about being with people whose company we genuinely enjoy and about whom we genuinely care.

There’s something unique about the bond we share with our fellow music fanatics. It’s a bond that has been strengthened over the last eleven years by shared memories, meaningful lyrics, loads of laughter, and the occasional circumstance that has left us all in mourning. There’s the saying, “Friends are family you get to pick,” and our music family is exactly that.

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Today I am eternally grateful for this group of souls that occupy such a huge spot in my heart, and in particular for Jen and Joe and yet another amazing experience I now get to treasure forever.

ugly

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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

A Belated Love Letter

Sometimes life – and laziness – tend to get in the way. I noticed that when I came to the realization I had not posted to my blog since the 13th. Ugh. So much for me writing every day.

Still, there are times when the ability to sit at the keyboard and put together a post just isn’t feasible. Yard work needs to get done, kids need to be shuttled to events, beer needs to be consumed with friends. And sometimes, the routine just needs to make way for something special.

It was nine years ago on the 15th of February that I first met my wife Lee. It was at a blind date at Lee Roy Selmon’s restaurant in New Tampa (I know, I’ve got super-style, right?). I still remember being nervous as I spoke to my friend on the phone as I waited for her to arrive. I remember the confident smile on her face as she introduced herself. I remember going home that night with a sense of ‘Wow!”, and looking forward to the next time I’d see her again.

Since we met on the 15th of February – the day after Valentine’s Day – Lee and I refer to that date as our Valenversary. It’s worked out for us since we don’t have the pressure of trying to do something for Valentine’s Day knowing we’ll be going out to dinner, or doing something special, the following evening. As Lee and I enjoyed our Valenversary dinner Saturday night, I made the comment that our first date felt like a lifetime ago. She looked up from her plate, smiled coyly, and replied, “That’s because it has been. We’ve lived a lifetime’s worth of experiences these past nine years.”

And she was right. It’s such a blessing to be able to rattle off the laundry list of cool things we’ve done since we met. In 2006 we were introduced to our ‘music family’, the people that make up our close circle of friends with whom we’ve shared so many experiences. We’ve been to so many music concerts and live shows, it’s nearly impossible to list them all. We’ve traveled for music festivals, and have gotten to meet and hang out with some very cool performers. We’ve been on six Rock Boats, as well as two other Sixthman cruises (Zac Brown and Elvis).

In 2008, Lee and I traveled to Costa Rica and had a week of jungle experiences. We paired that with a trip to Mexico for a relaxing stay at an all-inclusive resort. We loved it so much, we bought into their vacation package and have stayed with them several times since (we were married at the Palace resort on Isla Mujeres in 2009).

We’ve connected with the social media community in Tampa. That has allowed us to meet so many fascinating people, one of which is Mama Lucy who is transforming the lives of children in Tanzania.

Lee and I have found our spiritual home in Relevant Church, and we’ve been able to share and celebrate our faith together, despite our very different religious backgrounds.

And through it all, the most amazing part is the transformation I’ve experienced because of Lee. To say she saved my life is an understatement. She was an angel sent to me when I needed it most. She opened my eyes to what great love looks like. She’s challenged me to be a better man, a stronger husband, and a vessel for God’s work here on earth. Although it took me some time to realize it, she’s been exactly what I needed in my life.

No, we’re not perfect. We argue and fight, and we get on each other’s nerves from time to time. Still, sharing my life with Lee has taught me those disruptions are just that; disruptions. Brief, momentary hiccups that don’t come close to comparing to the mountainous joy we otherwise share on a regular basis.

These past nine years have been spectacular, and I am giddy at the thought of what forever after has in store for us.

Friendly Friday – Sue Markovitch

Part of my goal for 2014 is to have a post on my blog site every day. As I mentioned on the first of the year, I don’t want to necessarily write every day (although that would be great). Rather, I want to post something. Pictures, videos, something.

Although I am still working out a ‘subject schedule’, I think I will devote my Fridays to promoting people I know and their works and success. Hence, welcome to the first ever danaCreative Friendly Friday. Okay, I guess you can say the idea is somewhat borrowed from Twitter’s #FollowFriday, but I am going to give you more than just a Twitter handle to follow and forget.

Instead, I will share a little bit about how I know the person I’m highlighting, as well as information on where you can find them on the Internet.

With all that as the backdrop, I would like to introduce you to Sue Markovitch. I first met Sue via what I affectionately refer to as my music family. That is, the collection of music fans with whom I interact, most of which came together through the music of Sister Hazel. It started with us interacting on the old Sister Hazel message board. Her avatar was the tattoo she has of the Lyrics for Life logo. We got to know each other, and we soon came to realize we were, at the time, living parallel lives with regards to love and heartbreak. We were kindred spirits, finding in each other strength, guidance, and encouragement through the emotional tough times. Our friendship was purely virtual and online, but it was, off the bat, something special.

Sue was there for me, specifically when I had an emotionally devastating setback in summer of 2006. I was driving back home from a day trip to Miami, and I remember spending hours with her on the phone and she calmly talked me off the proverbial ledge. This is someone whom I never met in person, but she made the time for me to help me when I needed it most. When we finally met in person a couple of years ago on The Rock Boat, all we could do was hug, laugh, and cry; cry the tears of joy you shed when you see someone you’ve missed for such a long time.

In her own words, Sue is a, “writer, fitness coach, personal trainer, spiritual guide, seeker of truth, child of God, (and) student of life.” She is also the owner of Clear Rock Fitness in Ohio. Furthermore, Sue just released her first book “I Know What to Do, I Just Don’t Do It: How to Break Free from the Lies that Keep You Frustrated, Overweight, and Out of Shape.” I am looking forward to reading it, and I am so incredibly excited for Sue and the success she’s having with both her fitness studio and book.

I Know What To Do

And if you’re looking for a daily boost of motivation, be sure to check out her Twitter feed at @SueMarkovitch

Sue is one of the many people in my life whom I consider a blessing and a great friend. I hope you check out her sites, and that she provides for you the same inspiration she does for me.

Happy Friday!

Sue Markovitch

Reflections and Projections: A Look Back and Ahead

I don’t want this to be another typical New Year’s Day blog, full of resolutions forgotten by February or empty promises I make to myself. I also don’t want this to be a long diatribe year-in-review of 2013, either.

So, instead, I think I am just going to use this post as a sort of mental scrapbook for all the awesome things Lee and I were able to share in 2013, and as a wish-list of what we want to do in 2014. The central theme: gratitude. Yes, Lee and I had some tough moments last year, but they all pail in comparison to the plethora of blessings we were given.

So as we look forward to the year ahead, most of us with the clean-slate optimism of “this is my year to be great”, keep in mind the following:

  • You ARE great.
  • There is no such thing as perfection. All we can hope to do is be better today than we were yesterday.
  • “Be happy in the moment. That’s enough. Each moment is all we need. Not more.” – Mother Teresa

2013 Gratitude List

My Kids
  • Natalie’s continued success with club and middle school soccer
  • Daniel’s participation in Odyssey of the Mind and Math Bowl
  • Daniel attending Camp Gilead and Busch Gardens Camp
  • Chaperoning Natalie to Howl O’Scream
  • Kids spending the week with us over the summer and then again while their mom was traveling
  • Cheering on Wiregrass High School girls basketball with Natalie
  • Their overall good health and well being
Church / Faith
Music Concerts
Friends
  • My 40th birthday celebration
  • Beer nights with the guys
  • Weddings (Patricia & Adam, Tracey & Matt, Leslie Ann & Graham, Stacey & Sanjay)
  • Leigh S. moving back to Florida
  • Dinner nights (Jeff & Ellen, George & Ashley, Stephen & Lindsey, Warren & Gwen, Mark & Renee, Alyson & Tom, Jamie & Jamey, Jeff & Lindsey)
  • Super Bowl and college football parties
  • East coast trips to Casa de Smith
Lee

I am probably overlooking several events and people, and for that I am sorry. I guess it’s a good problem to have when your life is so full of blessings that it’s hard to keep track of them all.

As for 2014, Lee and I have some very lofty financial and lifestyle goals. We want to reduce debt by sticking to a strict budget, and also lose weight by trying the Fast Metabolism Diet. Both will take a serious amount of discipline and determination, but they work hand-in-hand given we spent about three times as much going out to dinner in 2013 than we did on groceries.

We also plan/hope to take Lee’s nephew to Cancun when he graduates from high school in May, and then travel back to Mexico in the late summer to visit my family in Puebla and spread my father’s ashes in his hometown. It will be 10 years in September that my father passed away.

Personally, I want to ensure one post to my blog per day. That’s not to say I will be writing every day. Rather, I want to make sure I add something – be it a written post, a photo, a funny YouTube video: something – to my blog every day.

Through it all, Lee and I know that God will direct us where He wants us to go. I know my faith walk saw amazing growth in 2013, and I pray that it continues to expand in this new year. I wish you all the best with your goals, dreams, and ambitions for this year.

“For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

Blessings

My Oscar Predictions

Right now I am in Miami getting ready to board a boat. A ship, actually. The Rock Boat to be specific. But that won’t stop me from sharing with you my predictions for this year’s Academy Award winners.

It’s always tough, come Oscar season, to pick the winners of the golden, bald dude statuette – especially if you haven’t seen 90% of the nominated films. But as any good hack prognosticator would tell you, facts just get in the way of blow-hard, uneducated opinions. So with that I present for your musing, this year’s batch of Oscar winners.

BTW … am I the only one that hates the Best Movie category was expanded to include a zillion movies? Seriously. Who has time to watch all those flicks?

I was a bit confused to see Argo nominated again. I thought it won a couple of Oscars in 1996, but …. what? ….. I’m thinking of Fargo? Oh …. nevermind. Besides, can Ben Affleck win if Matt Damon isn’t part of the project? I didn’t think so.

It is refreshing to see a tough-as-nails action film nominated for Best Picture. What now? … It’s not called Armour? It’s not about a bad-ass cop robot with an impenetrable suit of space-age alloy? ….. Darnit! So apparently it’s called Amour and it’s a French love story about old people … and I am NOT one of the six people who saw it.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is apparently NOT about heavy-set college girls at Ole Miss, and Les Misérables is about … wait. How many French films are we going to allow in this category exactly?

Given that Life is finite and Pi is an infinite number, the oxymoronic logic that is Life of Pi confuses me.

I’d like to say Zero Dark Thirty will win simply because any film that uses scenes of dudes with machine guns and night vision will always get my vote, but it was a bit of a snoozer.

I like Bradley Cooper and I like Jennifer Lawrence, but for some reason I don’t like them together. Kinda’ like coffee and Popsicles.

So it comes down to Django and the man who set him free. Historical bio pics are always good bets for Oscar nods, and it seems like Hollywood has something against the genius of Tarantino. But I’m going with Lincoln simply because any movie that features Jonah Hill, no matter how good it is, should never win an Oscar (see Moneyball).

As for the other winners:

Best Director: Steven Spielberg. By now, you have to think other directors just cringe when they hear Spielberg is releasing a film. “Damn … there goes my chance to win this year.”

Best Actor: Daniel Day Lewis, because as Honest Abe once said, “If you cut off my left foot, there will be blood.”

Best Actress: Quvenzhané Wallis. I will turn off the schtick for a second and say Quvenzhané was simply electrifying in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’ The fact she was able to take charge of every scene and command your attention as an unknown and untrained actress merits her the award.

<resume schtick>

Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz. The dude’s bad-ass. What more do you need to know?

Best Supporting Actress: Helen Hunt, because we FINALLY got to see Jamie Buchman’s lady bits.

Best Animated Film: Wreck It Ralph. Any movie about video games gets my roll of quarters.

Best Original Screenplay: Moonrise Kingdom. Is it me or does the name Roman Coppola sound a little redundant?

Best Adapted Screenplay: Silver Linings Playbook. I totally threw a dart for this one. #noclue

Best Cinematography: Life of Pi. It’s a dude, a boat, and a tiger. All that’s left is the cinematography.

And with that I am off to listen to Sister Hazel as I consume my 4th bucket of beer and my 15th piece of Rock Boat pizza. See you all in a week!

A Look At Stress

This was forwarded to me from my boss, and I found it so apropos given some of the events currently going on in both my life and the life of my wife. I plan to meditate on this next week as I will be de-stressing on The Rock Boat, but instead of water, I’ll be using a 12 oz. bottle of beer.

***

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I …hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. As early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them through the evening and into the night. Remember to put the glass down!