On the shoulders of a giant

Today, October 30th, is my dad’s birthday. Yes, if you’re keeping score at home, my parents’ birthdays are five days apart, each born in 1935. Yes, my mom robbed the cradle.

As I have done for my mom, I have written many posts about my dad. I’m not going back to review them, so please forgive me if I inadvertently repeat some of my thoughts and memories.

My dad is an understated, humble man. Highly, highly principled. He was a bit of a thrill seeker in his younger years, which carried over into his professional career as a cop in San Francisco. In the 60s and 70s, being a cop in any city was not for the faint of heart. But in San Francisco, it was an especially volatile time and place to be in law enforcement.

In his private life, Dad was a little league baseball coach who eventually rose through the ranks to become the president of the league for several years. He also built numerous haunted houses for my schools, floats for the Boys Club during the annual city parade, as well as dressing up as Santa Claus to entertain and amaze children.

Together with my mom, they were an amazing team. In later years, after Dad had retired from the police force, they bought a motor home for the purpose of making numerous trips to a Mexican orphanage for which they were on the Board of Directors. They loved those kids with such a heart of tenderness and compassion. After a career of seeing the worst in humanity, he easily saw the best in children.

At nearly 60 years old, my dad approached my mom about a radical direction he felt God was leading them. He asked my mom to begin praying about the possibility of moving to Costa Rica to begin a ministry there. For a year, they prayed. They made frequent visits to the area they felt would be their eventual home. They then bought some land down there. And that’s about all that could be said about it. It was land. A hillside cow pasture, to be more precise. After they had made their move to Central America, they transformed a cow pasture into a well-manicured paradise. I’m sorry that I don’t have any ‘before’ pictures, but this ‘after’ gives you a little idea of the natural beauty of only a sliver of the land on which they worked so hard.

Costa Rica lawn

It’s hard to tell anything by the picture at this size, but this land was beautiful. None of the structures existed before they bought the land. The house at the top of the picture was their home. The purpose for this land, and their being in Costa Rica, was to minister to pastors and their wives. It wasn’t a retreat center. It wasn’t a place for pastors to vacation. It was a place for them to get counseling, seek God, get good teaching, good meals, and love. Many came with serious marital problems. My parents saved many marriages and ministries in their years in Costa Rica. Something they were too humble to talk about.

While they intended to live the rest of their lives there, my mom’s health became a factor. After eight years there, they were forced to return to the United States in order for my mom to receive better medical care. It broke their hearts to leave, but they made an incredible impact in such a short period of time.

The next several years were the most amazing years, in my opinion, of their entire marriage. As my mom became less and less independent, my dad had to take on the role of caretaker and homemaker. This man among men, who never had to make a sandwich because my mom was always willing and able, now had to learn to cook, do laundry, and all those other chores that my mom took care of as he worked. As she continued to deteriorate, the things he had to do to take care of her had to be awkward for each of them. But love, true love, sacrificial love empowers you to overcome any and every obstacle.

My dad has always been my hero. But never more than in those last years in all he did to take care of the woman who brought me into the world. He completely gave up his life in order to do anything and everything he could to take care of her. The way he watched over her, prepared her substantial regimen of pills each day, fed her, helped her dress and undress. Absolutely heroic. At the same time, he was no spring chicken. He has his own health issues. But he would wear himself to the bone to take care of his Love.

Mom has now been gone for four and a half years. The woman God brought into his life long before he would completely understand why, was no longer by his side. My dad, who couldn’t speak a word of Spanish, was married to a woman who spoke it fluently. No big deal, until decades later when they would take on such active roles in Mexico and Costa Rica. God knows what we need before we do.

My dad is a giant. Not in physical stature. I am much taller and larger than he is. But he casts a tall shadow in every other way. His influence in my life is immeasurable. The man he always was, and the man he became in the face of extreme heartache is the greatest example of the attributes of love, listed in 1 Corinthians 13.

7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails.

I pray I can be half the man my dad is. His life has been, and always will be an inspiration to me. What an honor to be the son of a man of his stature.

Happy Birthday Dad. I love you.

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Sap isn’t just for trees

If you’ve been reading my posts over the past couple of weeks, no, I haven’t been auditioning for Harlequin.

I admit, I am a sappy, sappy man. I have been criticized by men and women throughout my adult life for being a deep feeler. It makes some people uncomfortable. Transparency makes people feel awkward. I’ve received well-intentioned advice from female friends that I need to be more of a ‘bad boy’ in order to attract women. As Leo Durocher famously said, “nice guys finish last”. Male peers look at guys like me with a skeptical eye, as if maybe we’re confused about our gender identity.

Even in this day and age, and maybe even especially in this day and age, fathers all over the land get nervous if their sons are emotional and creative. We’re not supposed to cry. If we are hurt, physically or emotionally, we’re supposed to rub some dirt on it and not show that it hurt. My dad would probably kill me if he knew I was telling this story, but I think I can outrun him. When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I injured my arm at my neighbor’s house. For three days, I complained about the pain. My mom was very concerned, but my dad wanted me to tough it out. “C’mon, tie your shoes. You’re fine.”

Finally, a few days later, my dad relented and took me to the doctor. When we returned home, I emerged from the car with a cast from my hand all the way to my shoulder. My mom watched us through the living room window as we made our way up the driveway. I had this cool cast, my trophy for my broken arm, and was grinning from ear to ear. It wasn’t until I was an adult when my mom told me my dad had the guiltiest, most remorseful look on his face. See? He has a heart!

God gave us emotions. Whether it’s love, anger, sadness, fear, excitement or happiness, EmotionsGod intended us to experience a wide range of feelings. The key is to embrace them, but keep them under control. We can’t let them control us. Any of these emotions can lead to impulse issues. We must control these impulses. However, there is nothing wrong with feeling and expressing our emotions, when appropriate.

In the past week, many of you have shared with me your emotions, and how you were touched by the content of my posts. Many of you have paid me very nice compliments about my writing. I don’t even know how to tell you how much I appreciate these comments. The only thing I know to say is that what you’ve been reading is a direct result of accepting and utilizing the way I’m designed. As such, I try to harness my emotions to communicate through my writing, my singing, my speaking, and my actions. God has used my sensitivity to connect with teenagers with self esteem issues. With kids with special needs. With the elderly. With people enduring heartache. And now, God is using my tools in a new and special way for my own life.

For men, young and old, it is not a indictment on your masculinity to express sensitivity. We must embrace it and express it. Being Mr. Macho is fine with the guys, but not so much when you’re with your mother, wife, girlfriend, daughter, etc. I have worked with kids of all ages, and so many boys feel guilty and confused if they show love or sadness. Whether it’s peer pressure, or something they’re conditioned to think by their culture at home, there needs to be some teaching to boys and young men about how to express their emotions in a healthy way.

Harnessing emotions comes with maturity. Believe me, I’ve had to learn from a lot of my own mistakes and heartaches. God is faithful, however, to take these things and use them for His purpose. But that is just so God. The Great Improvisor. He makes us all different. We all have our own skills and tools. The important thing for each of us is to utilize the gifts He has given us to serve something bigger than ourselves.

Others may do things differently than we’d do it, and that’s okay. God will use me in ways He may not use you, but He’ll also use you in ways He won’t use me. Be who you are. And please, encourage kids to be who God designed them to be, even if it’s different than we are. God will bless and use them in special ways. For each of us, we need to yield back to Him what He has given us.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.   ~1 Corinthians 15:10a

My two Sarahs

Today is October 25th. 78 years ago today, my mom was born. Sadly, she left us 4 and a Momhalf years ago, in March of 2009. As I contemplated what I would share about her in this post, I found myself at a loss. Over the years, I have written a great many things about her. From specific memories, to simple thoughts of her heart and character.

As my life is entering an exciting new chapter, I’m left to think of her indelible imprint on who I am as a man. Over the years, I have been criticized for being a sensitive man. My mom was a very emotional person. She would cry at Hallmark commercials. I’m not nearly that bad, but she did pass on the sentimental gene to me. So no, I don’t cry at commercials, but no matter how many times I watch the movie Mr Holland’s Opus, I cry like a baby at the end.

As a sentimental fool, it should come as no surprise the significance of having a such a wonderful mother named Sarah Jane, only to be followed up by finding and experiencing the love of such an amazing woman named Sarah-Jane. I can’t prove this theologically, but there is something inside me that recognizes my mom’s fingerprints in this love connection. Not so much the name thing. That has God’s signature on it. But I know that my mom would approve of and be completely on board with my new Sarah-Jane.

I probably will never understand on this side of Heaven why God couldn’t have kept my mom around long enough to meet her. But that’s okay. It’s just my hope that the best part of my mom lives in me enough that Sarah-Jane can get a feel of who she was. And I’m confident that one day, they’ll be introduced to one another and embrace for a long time.

Remembering that moment again, in my mom’s hospital room, when she wondered aloud, “who will pray for you when I’m gone?”

I found her, Mom. I found her. Enjoy your rest.

How do I say thank you?

For the past week or so, I’ve been sharing some of the most personal posts I’ve ever written. Doing so comes at some risk. Criticism being chief among them.

Just yesterday, I received a series of text messages that were very critical of this series of posts. I was told that I was making a fool of myself, and that it was embarrassing all the detail I was posting. It should be noted that these messages were coming from a woman I dated very briefly more than four years ago. So it could be said she had some misguided agenda.

With that very insignificant exception, there have been so many positive comments and “likes” on Facebook and here on my blog site. Many are friends of mine, and many are friends of Sarah-Janes, most of whom I have not yet met.

No matter. You have all blessed me so much, and I know Sarah-Jane is also moved by your support and encouragement. I don’t know exactly what I expected in response to these posts. But certainly nothing like what we’ve experienced. I was a bit hesitant, and by “bit”, I mean “completely”, to admit that we met online. But I can’t even imagine the whopper of a lie I’d have to come up with to explain how I met the Love of my life in Rhode Island. Shockingly, I’ve received universal acceptance. Even some testimonials and confessions from others who have found love by this method.

It goes without saying that the days, weeks and months ahead are going to be interesting,thank-you to say the least. As much as is appropriate, interesting, and serves a bigger purpose than an online diary, I will be posting updates. And of course, there is more to share about our experiences up to this point. But I just wanted to take this opportunity to write a “bonus post” to say thank you. You have all been so kind. I’m humbled, and all of this outpouring has only served to fuel my determination.

But ultimately, I thank God. I thank Him for his blessings that go well beyond my merit. We don’t deserve blessings. He gives liberally to us because He loves us. We honor Him and those who bless us by our gratefulness and loyalty.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.   ~Luke 12:48b

 

I have been given much. And your love and encouragement serve as love notes from God. It’s in these good times, and the difficulties, when you really learn who your friends are. I have much to live up to. Because of what I’ve been given and been entrusted with, I must remain humble, mindful and diligent to give my very best with each day.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

 

I’m shipping up to Boston

With thousands of hours of talk, email and texting in the books, it was clear we had to start looking at the calendar to see what dates would be mutually ideal for me to fly to Boston to visit Sarah-Jane. In my mind, there was never any question that I would be the one to travel. Even though I would never do anything to bring her harm, naturally, I would never dream of putting her in a position of such vulnerability. She is a mother, daughter, sister, aunt and dear friend to a great many people. I couldn’t allow her to be in a position where that many people could be concerned for her safety, flying coast-to-coast to meet a man she and they have never met.

It didn’t dawn on me until just now, as I went back through my emails to see when I bought my plane ticket, that I did so on September 11. I’m glad I didn’t think of that at the time. That might have been a little ominous. Anyway, my flight would go through New York City, then catch a connecting flight to Boston on October 10, 2013. It was a done deal. The clock started counting down.

One month of waiting.

At first, there was great excitement. As the days counted down, the excitement grew. But there was also a measure of uncertainty.

Will it be awkward? Will she be attracted to me in person? Will the chemistry we have on the phone carry over in person? 

Of course, she had similar questions about my interest in her. During that month of waiting, we had many conversations in which we had to remind each other, and maybe even ourselves, that there was nothing in the superficial realm that could or would change what was happening in our hearts. We prayed every single day, together and on our own. There have been a couple of high profile instances recently of people using the internet to misrepresent themselves to others for a variety of reasons. It is quite common. Yet, I had no reason to believe Sarah-Jane was anything other than what I knew of her. None. But weird stuff creeps in your mind when you’re on the cusp of a potentially life changing moment.

There are very few events in a lifetime when you can literally count down to a singular moment when you know your life will change forever. We each had an app on our phones that literally counted down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until my flight was scheduled to arrive in Boston. Each day, and sometimes several times per day, we would send one another screenshots of the countdown. Anticipation mounted. Focus on work, or anything else, got increasingly difficult. I likened it to the two week period that leads up to the Super Bowl. There just comes a point when you’re sick of all the talk and you just want the game to get going. It was that same type of frustrating anticipation, but multiplied by a million.

I opted to schedule a red eye flight. Due to business, I didn’t want to take too many work days off. Also this way, I could work all day, then catch a flight that night, and arrive the next morning with most of the day ahead of us to spend together. I didn’t want to burn a precious day flying. Fortunately, I had a very busy day with work. The hours raced by. When I got home, I had several last minute tasks to take care of before driving to the airport. This was intentional. Sitting around, I would be checking the clock every other minute. So I kept busy. Then, it was time to go.

Being a red eye, Sarah-Jane was already fast asleep. It was almost 3 AM in Rhode Island by the time I took off. I was able to get a few hours sleep on the plane, but my heart and mind were racing. My plane landed at JFK about 8 AM. I immediately texted her to let her know the first leg was completed safely. She enthusiastically responded with relief and excitement. I had a two hour layover. We talked on the phone for a while as I waited for my flight to Boston. Then, it was time to board.

The flight from NYC to Boston is only about 40 minutes. In all honesty, I have to admit that I was battling pessimism. I went from worrying about what she would think, to wondering what I would think. I knew I was attracted to her. I knew I loved her heart. Her humor. Her mind. There was nothing I could think of that was a mystery to me about her. But at the same time, there was a nagging doubt. Perhaps it was simply a safety mechanism trying to keep my hopes from getting too high so it wouldn’t be devastating if there weren’t sparks.

As I landed in Boston, I texted her. She was just arriving at the airport, as my flight arrived about 15 minutes early. I was in seat 1A, so I was able to be the very first person off the plane. Yes, I did that on purpose. I went through a door near my gate, went down one flight of stairs to baggage claim. I got there way before the luggage could be removed and transferred to the carousel. Meanwhile, she was texting me telling me she had finally found a parking spot and was trying to find her way to baggage claim. My heart was not racing as I had expected. Perhaps my pessimism was keeping me calm. I repeatedly looked in the direction from where I knew she’d be coming. Finally, I saw a figure coming from outside to the double doors to baggage claim.

With God as my witness, what I’m about to tell you is 100% true. The door to baggage claim from the parking lot was a good 75 feet away. But the instant I saw her, from that distance, I felt all sense of doubt completely disappear. Instantly. I felt an absolute peace.

40s-airport-kissIt had nothing to do with her outer beauty, though I find her amazingly attractive. It was simply the peace of God that I was in the presence of “her”.

Years ago, I came to a significant place in my life. I had been asked a million times, “what are you looking for in a woman?” People have their little shopping list of qualities. That’s natural. But I got to the place where I simply gave up my list. God knows how He wired me. He knows not only what I like, but what I need. I just asked the Lord to help me recognize “her” when I meet her.

In talking with Sarah-Jane for the thousands of hours that led up to this moment, I knew she had every quality, and so much more, that I could ever dream of. She has qualities that I didn’t know I even needed or wanted.

In that moment, as she walked through those doors…I recognized her. Not from pictures.

But from my prayers.

Bread crumbs

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.   ~Romans 8:28

In my previous post, A new hope, I shared with you the story of how I met Sarah-Jane. It’s a fun and great story. But now it’s important to add some texture to the story that helps you see there is much more to it than two people “connecting” via an internet website.

First of all, the most fundamental part of my life is my faith as a Christian. Having everything in the world in common, without this, would be pointless. With that in mind, the website I used was a Christian-themed service. However, just because it has Christian in the name, it doesn’t mean everyone there shares your beliefs and values. So finding a pretty face and an engaging personality wasn’t going to be enough.

While on the surface, being 3,000 miles away is inconvenient, to say the least, it does force you to really get to know one another without distractions. Of course, I would say nothing negative about the conventional method of dating and getting to know one another. But there is something about the way Sarah-Jane and I are wired, as well as difficult experiences from our past, that lead me to believe this was absolutely the perfect way for us. Besides, how else was I going to find the perfect woman hiding out in Rhode Island, of all places? We are each very deep feelers. What I mean by that is that we are very emotional people. As such, we are each vulnerable to getting carried away with emotions prematurely. But the distance really gave us no other choice but to talk about everything.

In doing so, we discussed our spiritual beliefs and values in great depth. We discussed just about everything you could think of. Money. Church. Ministry. Goals. Dreams. Disappointments. Heartbreaks. Families. We laughed…a lot. We even cried. We dealt with our fears, both real and imagined. We discussed very difficult topics. Even awkward ones.

In every single detail, we found incredible compatibility. There has never been a single thing in which either one of us have said, “I disagree, but we can work that out.”

In all the topics we covered, among so many other “little” things, I found everything leading straight to God. I call them “bread crumbs”. From things that, in and of themselves, don’t determine compatibility, to very deep and personal things, everything left a trail straight to the feet of our Lord. The first of which is her name. Sarah-Jane. As I mentioned previously, my mom’s first and middle names were Sarah Jane. Does this detail mean we’re meant to be together? Of course not. But it sure is something more than a coincidence. Let me share with you why it’s significant to me.

The day my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, we knew she only had weeks to live. As I sat alone with her in her hospital room that day, I was staring at the TV, but really, my focus was a million miles away. I thought Mom was asleep, but then she stirred for a moment. As I turned my head, I saw that she was looking at me. Then she said these words to me.

Who will pray for you when I’m gone?

She’s been gone since March 20, 2009. I lost my number one human advocate. But in trail-of-breadcrumbsGod’s unmistakeable, unmatchable way, He has given me another Sarah-Jane who has taken up the mantle of praying for me with a heart of love and devotion.

Bread crumbs to the heart of God.

Many years ago, Sarah-Jane’s grandmother told her something that has always stuck with her. Sarah-Jane’s birthday is May 25. Her oldest son’s birthday is September 25th. Sarah-Jane’s grandmother’s birthday was also on the 25th of the month. Her grandmother told her that special things will happen in her life relating to the 25th.

My birthday is February 25th, and my mom’s was October 25th.

Bread crumbs.

Yes, these things may seem coincidental in nature. Maybe they are. Personally, I am not a believer in coincidence. At least, not when they relate to big things in life. Remember, these things are not what our relationship is based on. They are simply very cool details that God gives us to show He is in those very details. Whatever it is in your life that leads you to giving Him glory and praise…it’s of God. End of story.

I also find the bread crumbs in the fact that we have this distance between us during this process. With her blessing, I’m sharing this detail about her. Due to some heartbreaks in her life, it was very important to her, even more than she knew at the time, to find someone who would fight for her. Someone who would be willing to overcome obstacles, who would battle inconvenience in order to pursue her. During this process, she has seen my determination. Something she has never felt before. I don’t say this to lift myself up. It’s simply to say that God knows what we need before we do. He knows the things we need to see in others, and ourselves, in order to receive and appreciate His blessings in our lives.

I shared a quote from Thomas Paine with her some time ago. I felt it summed up my feelings on overcoming obstacles in pursuing God’s will. And with this, I’ll close this post. Tomorrow, I’ll share with you the feelings and events that led up to our initial face-to-face meeting.

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.

A new hope

As 2013 began, I was in a relatively long term relationship. A few months into the year, it had ended. There was no fight or event that led to it. It really came down to two people who simply were too different from one another, and the relationship had run its course. It had very good qualities, and good memories. However, it had peaked already, and was on the downward slide. Again, there were no bad feelings or anything.

When it ended, I was convinced my best days were behind me. I know that I don’t turn heads when I’m walking down the street. Unless they’re trying to get a second look at my brightly colored shoes. I’m 48 years old, not much of a social butterfly, so the prospects of meeting and attracting someone new seemed highly unlikely, at best.

In searching for the right word to describe my motivation for what I was to do next, I felt desperation was not the word. More like…resignation. I never have been into the bar scene. I am not going to go church-hopping to meet someone. I’ve avoided singles groups like the plague. So what’s a guy to do?

Yeah…the internet.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was not optimistic at all. If anything, I had hoped it might build some confidence in me to at least be open to meeting someone and starting all over from scratch with the getting-to-know-you phase. My original time frame was one month. I’ll do this for 30 days, and before my subscription would renew, I’d cancel and at least be able to say ‘I tried’. For the first three weeks of that month, I refused to post a picture of myself. It was bad enough, in my mind, that I was even doing this. If anyone I knew actually saw and recognized my picture, I would be mortified. But when you don’t post a picture, people assume such horrible things about the person on the other side of the faceless profile.

With a week or so left in my 30 day tire-kicking period, I reluctantly posted a picture. Suddenly I started drawing some interest. However, not really from anyone in whom I found interest. On the other hand, there was some momentum in my experience. But then, my month was about to expire. What should I do?

Okay…one more month.

One day, just out of curiosity to explore some of the features of the site, I went to the tab that allows you to browse new pictures of profiles that had been posted within the last day or two. In your profile, you’re able to choose the distance radius in which you’d like your “match” to live. It could be 50 miles, it could be 100, 300, or even “anywhere”. I think I set mine to 100. But when looking in this photo section, it was pictures that were posted by people from anywhere and everywhere. That’s when I came across this picture.

IMG_0513I thought she was VERY cute, so I clicked on the picture to take a look at her profile. That’s when I saw the bad news.

She lives in Rhode Island.

Really? Could she be any further away and still be in the United States???

Discouraged by the setback, I decided to read her profile anyway. In doing so, I found myself smiling, even laughing at what she wrote. It was just oozing with personality. She was brilliantly funny. But in the humor, there was substance. It wasn’t as if she weren’t taking this whole thing seriously, but she also wasn’t taking it so seriously that she sounded like everyone else.

Hmmm, should I send her an email just to say hello?

That’s when I read the following words: “Only New Englanders need apply”.

Rejected before I even had a chance to introduce myself.

In the spirit of, well, I have nothing to lose, I sent an email anyway. I had no expectation that I’d get a reply. I’m a continent away. Plus, she’s beautiful, so I’m sure her inbox is stuffed with would-be suitors. But I at least wanted to compliment her and thank her for putting a smile on my face with her creative and insightful profile. I sent it off, and figured that would be that.

Because I had no expectation of a response, I cannot tell you how long it was before I was notified of a message in my inbox. But it was the same day. Yes, she did write me back! Still, expectations were low. She was probably only responding to say thanks for the compliments.

In her response, she mentioned that it was her “first full day” on the site. Then she went on to say that she was, “surprised by the number of responses” she was getting.

Hey, at least I was lucky enough to get a personal response. But there was no way I had any chance to get to know her when I’m so geographically challenged, and she has a plethora of emails to sort through of hopeful guys. I didn’t have a chance.

But she ended her email by saying this: “I’m Sarah-Jane, btw…nice to *meet you!”

This is where things got really interesting. My mom, who passed away in 2009, was also named Sarah. My mom’s middle name? Jane. If that weren’t enough, I noticed that she ended her email with enthusiasm.

She left it open-ended…with an exclamation point!

We exchanged a number of emails over the next 90 minutes. Then it got to the point where I had to leave the house, and she needed to do some other things, herself. But in her last email of the exchange, she said, “I’d love to hear from you again…”

And she did.

to be continued…