Raise the Bar

No, this is not a blog about tearing down the local watering hole. (think about it)…..

Rather, this is a spur-of-the-moment, “the Holy Spirit nudged me and told me to write” kinda post.

I just wrapped up my last class of my first semester at Trinity College in Florida. The class was Biblical Ethics, and to conclude the course, we were tasked to write a term paper and make a presentation of the Executive Summary of the paper.

I think most of my classmates did not read the proverbial fine print in the syllabus because what they ended up doing was presenting their paper to the class. As you can imagine, it was quite the mind-numbing experience. Presenter after presenter talking about such ethics class standards as abortion, same sex marriage, and divorce.

Yawn!

To be fair, there were a couple of individuals who were captivating in their presentations, and held my attention from start to finish. Their presentations were authentic and heartfelt. But for most of the three hour session, it was an exercise in, “please, God, please let them wrap up soon” praying.

Kill Me Know

Now, I know this may come across as a humble-brag type of post, but I am really proud of what I presented and the manner in which I presented. As God would have it, my turn to present – as determined randomly by my professor – came towards the end of class.

I launched my PowerPoint presentation, followed the points laid out in my Executive Summary, and added additional comments as they came to me during my presentation. It was succinct. It was informative. I like to think it was engaging. Based on the louder than average applause from my classmates, I think it was well received.

To be fair to everyone else in my class, I’ve worked in IT pretty much since I graduated from college in 1994. I’ve been with my current employer going on nineteen years now. I am well versed in putting together presentations. Speaking in front of others is easy for me. Tonight’s assignment was very much in my wheelhouse (although I can’t tell you what a wheelhouse is).

My hope is not that others were impressed by me or my presentation. My hope is that they are motivated or challenged to apply the techniques I used in their next presentation. My prayer is they seek a sense of betterment as a student going forward because the were presented with an example of a what clear, concise, and effective presentation looks like. (see aforementioned humble brag)

I would say approximately 80%-90% of what I’ve learned in life I’ve learned by watching others. Observation is our greatest teacher (other than Jesus, of course), and it is in observing others that we learn what to do … and not to do … in certain situations. We see others reset what ‘possible’ means, and we are driven to do better or be better as a result.

Bar

The greatest imperative we have as Christ followers is to continuously raise the bar in terms of what it means to be generous, forgiving, understanding, and loving. Being a Christian does not necessarily mean we have the Bible memorized, nor does it mean the Bible always makes sense to us. I think being a Christian means looking at the life Jesus lived, recognizing His is the ultimate example to follow, and understanding no matter how hard we try we’ll never reach that standard.

Still ….. despite our flaws, despite our sinful nature, and despite our inability to be perfect the way Jesus was, we try anyway. We strive towards the standard He set because in doing so, we exercise love, we foster fellowship with others, and we create betterment in our lives.

And I firmly believe it is the pursuit of this betterment, inching closer to God today than we were yesterday, that makes us good and faithful servants in the eyes of the Lord.

“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!'” Matthew 25:21

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

Something Crazy?

Ever have one of those moments after doing something that leaves you questioning your sanity?

I’ve been on the fence about taking a next step in my faith journey, a step that would mean a significant time and financial commitment. For several months now I’ve been wrestling with the idea, going back and forth as to why I should or shouldn’t do it. Today, it all came to a head. I felt God nudge shove me and say, “Just do it already!” So I did.

This evening, I submitted an application for the TrinityQuest program at Trinity College. My goal is to learn more about God’s Word and, along the way, earn a degree I can use to transition out of corporate life and into a vocation of ministry.

In the application process, I was asked to submit a brief biography explaining how I came to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and why I want to attend Trinity. 750 words can be considered brief, right?

Below is a copy of the essay I submitted.

Hello. My name is child of the one true King.

Yes, I know that is a blatant rip-off of a Matthew West song, but it also happens to be true.

Over forty years ago, I, as an infant, was baptized by my God-parents and welcomed into the Catholic Church. I was raised in an “attend church every so often” household, one where God was present but not necessarily made a priority.

I attended Catholic school from Kindergarten through high school, doing my Catholic duty along the way. Altar boy, lector, Eucharistic minister, peer minister, Christian leader: I was happy to fill my extra-curricular time with work and activities related to my Catholic upbringing.

As teens tend to do, I drifted away from church in college. The pace and workload of university life, coupled with giving into the indulgences of living in New Orleans – I attended Tulane university – lead me to exclude God from my life. I became a stereotypical Christmas and Easter Catholic, and that is where I stayed for the better part of 15 years.

During that decade and a half, I was married, had two children, eventually failed as a husband, and saw my marriage come to an end. I faced the darkest moments of my life, moments that found me chasing comfort at the bottom of a bottle and in the beds of strangers. Yet although I felt alone, I knew in my heart I was not alone. I knew through it all, God was calling me to course correct. He was calling me back into His love, His grace, and His protection.

One Sunday morning, I felt His voice stronger than ever. “Go to Mass. I need you there.” I randomly and reluctantly attended Mass at the nearest Catholic Church, and on that day I was introduced to the new Youth Minister that had just been hired. She convinced me to step up and volunteer in the youth ministry program, and it was that experience that started me on a path of redemption.

I would meet someone new, a woman who would challenge me to be a better person and a man of God. This woman would end up becoming my wife, and we would struggle at first to celebrate our faith together, she having been raised Baptist and I having been raised Catholic. Through God’s will, we were introduced to Relevant Church in Tampa. I would say through coincidence, but I’ve come to learn that coincidence is just God showing off.

For the two of us, we were not facing a crisis of faith so much as a crisis of church. At Relevant, we found the spiritual home we’d been seeking, and it’s been truly transformational for the both of us. We’ve taken part in growth groups that have allowed us to do life with others in our church community, and to truly grow our understanding of His Word. We’ve volunteered on our First Impressions team, happily greeting on Sunday mornings, and welcoming experienced and first time visitors alike with warm smiles and firm handshakes. And in the spring of 2013, my wife and I renewed our commitment to God by being baptized as adults.

It was during one of our growth groups, at a time when we were studying the book Greater by Pastor Steven Furtick, that I felt God compel me to move. I felt His calling in a way I hadn’t before, and I knew God was telling me to move in a direction of ministry. God blessed me with the talent of writing, and rather than continue to bury that talent out of fear, I’ve chosen to invest that talent in His Word by ministering to others through both my actions and my blog.

I know I still have a long way to go in my faith journey, but it’s a walk I take with a new found yearning to learn more about the loving direction God provides us through Scripture. It is for this reason I would like to attend Trinity College. I want to continue to grow in Christ and move on the path God has called me to take.

I am a child of the one true King, and I want to learn, grow, and Kingdom-build here on earth for His love and His glory.

Thank you for your time and consideration.