One year

August 5, 2015, my dad went home to be with Jesus. One year ago this evening, while I was on the phone with my brother Matt, Dad entered into his rest, his reward; the presence of God.

IMG_5451I have written many posts about my dad through the years. Most often on his birthday. He was a man’s man. Born October 30, 1935, Dad grew up during the Great Depression. He began working as a boy, then lied about his age in order to join the Marines in the 1950s. After he was discharged, he worked for Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility company in California. But his heart wasn’t made for this profession. He was made to do more. He was designed to serve. He entered the police academy in order to become a member of the San Francisco police force.

Dad served honorably for over two decades, earning many medals of honor, including multiple gold medals, which are most often given to the widows of fallen officers . Starting as a uniformed cop on the beat, to the juvenile division, narcotics, and ultimately as member of what was then a brand new division, the bomb squad. This was not long after a domestic terror organization, the Weather Underground, bombed a SFPD station in 1970. I remember him telling me the story of how he ran up several flights of stairs to submit his request to be part of this elite new squad. As he arrived, out of panting heavily from his sprint, they looked at him as if he had three heads.

“Why are you out of breath?”

“I wanted to beat the rush for this opportunity.”

“Rush? For the bomb squad? Nobody wants to be part of this.”

That was my dad. The greater the danger, the greater the opportunity to serve the greater number of people. He was always willing to put himself in harm’s way in order to protect others.

In 1982, at the age of 47, Dad led his family by example in giving his heart to Jesus and asking Him to be Lord of his life. He was not a man who was desperate. You’ve heard the saying, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” That wasn’t my dad. He wasn’t in crisis. In fact, he wasn’t even seeking God.

God was seeking Dad.

In a personal encounter on a Saturday afternoon in our garage Dad had turned into a wood shop, God spoke to my dad’s heart. Dad was flipping stations on his radio several times throughout the course of the day, and repeatedly landed on a Christian station that featured recorded sermons from a variety of pastors. As the day went on, he’d listen for a few minutes here and there. Each time, he heard a brief message from different speakers. The only consistency in these messages was they were each speaking on salvation and our need to ask Jesus into our hearts. After several hours and various speakers, Dad turned off his power saw out of fear that his trembling hands would cause an accident. He walked out of the garage, through the kitchen past my mom, and proceeded to their bedroom. There, he closed the door, fell on his knees, and asked Jesus to come into his heart and change him.

God did.

My dad became a sold out man of God. Some years later, Dad retired from the police department so he could give himself to whatever God had for him in ministry. Before he did, Dad had become part of a prison ministry where he spoke intimately with hardened criminals in San Quentin. Not a ministry and venue you’d expect to see a cop. But that’s what God said, and that’s what Dad did.

I’m not trying to write a complete biography, just give you a thumbnail sketch of the kind of man my Dad was. He was a Marine and a cop. But what defined him and what was most precious to him was being a servant of Christ. Long before my Dad submitted his life to the Lord, God had been preparing my father for ministry by giving him a heart for service. Willing to go to the dark places in order to bring the light of Jesus. Whether it was being in a locked prison cell with a convicted felon, or selling all they had to move to Costa Rica in obedience and service to God so that he and my mom could minister to people. My dad was a servant.

I miss him every day, but his influence in my life lives on today. His impact in the lives of hundreds, even thousands of people throughout his life lives on. God used him beautifully and powerfully. As I am two months away from being a husband and step father, I pray I can be half the influence in the lives of my family as he was to his.

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!

Matthew 25:21

 

Re-membering

This week is the definition of bittersweet for me. Last Sunday would have been my mom’s 80th birthday, and today will be the first October 30th since 1935 without my dad.

The title of this post is not a typo. The word remember means bringing back that which is broken. Imagine one of your arms being broken from your body. The act of restoring it to your shoulder is re-membering. IMG_5453

For several years in the 1990s, my parents served on the board of directors of an orphanage in Mexico. I had the privilege of visiting and ministering in this orphanage. It was an amazing experience I’ll never forget. Being with these children, with whom I could barely communicate because of the language barrier, touched my heart in a way I never knew possible. We laughed, played and even cried together. This was my first experience in such a ministry, and it never would have happened were it not for my parents.

This past Sunday, the 80th anniversary of my mom’s birth, we had a special missionary guest. His ministry?

Orphans in Haiti.

On the day that held a special place in my heart as I remembered my mom, God sent a messenger who re-animated a chamber in my heart for those with no parents or blood relatives.

Re-membering.

Today, as I think of my dad, and for the first time, being unable to see or even call him to wish him a special day and tell him I love him, I re-member his unwavering integrity and character. An imperfect man, yes, but one who wouldn’t allow himself to knowingly do the wrong thing whether people would know or not. HIs example has served as an inspiration to me throughout my adult life.

Re-membering their love and devotion to one another. Re-membering their steadfast pursuit and love of God and people. Re-membering the laughter. Re-membering the tears.

My heart was broken on March 20, 2009, and again on August 5, 2015. But as I re-member the parents God blessed me with, and think of those who have no parents, my heart is restored and filled with joy, humility, and resolve. A resolve to make a difference in lives, just as my parents did. By any means necessary. Even if it seems crazy. Even if it seems impossible. Even if it seems too late. Even if it seems too expensive.

God showed me through my parents that all He needs is a willing heart, and lives will be changed.

It must start with mine.

Thank you Mom and Dad. I miss you. But you are part of me as I re-member you. May my life be a continuation of the spiritual heritage you began. I look forward to seeing you again, but first, there is work to be done here.

My dad’s secret life

When we think of people and their secret lives, we automatically think of something scandalous. Jared from Subway and Josh Duggar are currently in the eyes of their respective storms for their secret lives. We are conditioned that secret lives are exclusively for those who are hiding their transgressions so they may protect their public reputation.

Then there are people whose secret lives conceal activities which would only magnify what people already think of them.

My dad was such a man. I was raised by a man who lived to serve and protect others. He was a former United States Marine. Some years after completing his service for our country, he became a San Francisco police officer. Following his career in law enforcement, he became an ordained minister, and with my mom, served at an orphanage in Mexico, then moved to an impoverished part of Costa Rica ministering to people in great need. I could easily list his accomplishments and achievements so you would be impressed.

My dad would be embarrassed by that.

I’m very proud of who he was. The secret life he led touched lives everywhere he went. IIMG_5451 remember when he gave our family car to a young couple who were in ministry at our church. They had a very young family, and on an associate pastor’s salary, they couldn’t afford to buy a much-needed vehicle to accommodate them. Dad recognized the need, and simply gave ours to them. No fanfare. Had there been Facebook then, you never would have seen it posted, and he would have strongly required that the family who got the car not tell the story in any other way than God provided it for them through by speaking to an anonymous servant.

To this day, I am so turned off by people who, by social media or in everyday conversation, speak of themselves and their every thought and activity. We live in a very self-promoting, self-centered generation.

While living and ministering in Costa Rica, my parents were ministering in a church. At some point in the service, the pastor inexplicably called a young, single girl forward to stand before the pulpit. It was then that he publicly spoke of how this young lady was pregnant and in sin. Apparently, this was standard operating procedure in this church. My dad, standing in the front row, moments before he would speak to the congregation, stepped forward and stood next to the young lady.

“I’m Ed, and I’m a sinner, too.”

My mom told me of this, because he never would.

Later in life, after they moved back to California due to my mom’s illness, my dad did so many other little things to bless people. On Fridays, he would go to Krispy Kreme and buy dozens of doughnuts. He would then drive around to their various doctors’ offices and deliver the treats to those who took such great care of them. He frequently gave boxes of candy to my mom’s hospital nurses.

Whether ministering to pastors and missionaries, or to hospital nurses and doctors’ assistants, Dad had a special vision and knew how to show appreciation and serve those who serve. Those who are expected to do extraordinary things, and who were easily overlooked for their service.

There are many, many things I can list here, but that would defeat the purpose of honoring the example and character of a great man. These things he did, and the many secrets he took with him as he entered God’s presence on August 5th, were not for his glory, but God’s.

What is your secret life? Is it one you want hidden so that people will not be disappointed? So that your reputation won’t be damaged? Or is it a life that is dedicated to honoring and revealing the love of God to those around us?

This week, as I had a private moment at my dad’s open casket, I quietly thanked him for his love and example. He showed me so much, yet told me so little. I share these things with you to challenge you, as I have been challenged. How willing am I to do something that would make a great Facebook or Twitter post, that would make people really like and respect me, but do it only out of obedience to God, and only for His glory, not mine? May I truly want only God and His beneficiary to know of my involvement.

May my secrets bless those who God ordains, and may they bring glory to Him, and Him alone.

Birthdays of heroes

Today is a special day. Not because the Giants won the World Series last night. Ok, it is a special day because of that. But far beyond that, today is my dad’s birthday. 5 days ago was the birthday of my mother. Normally, I have written about each of them, individually, on their birthdays. But this year, I feel compelled that the only fitting way to honor them is to do so collectively, the way they lived their lives.

I didn’t need a best friend in my dad as I was growing up. Many fathers and sons have that kind of relationship. I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with that. What I needed was a hero. As far back as I can remember, my dad was always bigger than life. He was a cop in San Francisco dating back to the incredibly volatile days of the late 60s, when being an authority figure was like a buck wearing a bullseye on them during a never-ending hunting season. He never shied away from what most of us would avoid. Those things actually inspired him.

What an incredible leader and example he was, and is, for me.

Just the other day, he suffered a bit of an accident and was injured. He spent the night in the hospital. He’s home and doing fine now, so we’re thankful it wasn’t what it could have been. As odd as it may seem coming from a man of my age, this served as a painful IMG_1780reminder that the man is, in fact, not bulletproof. He isn’t indestructible. Even so, he endures it all as heroes do. With humility, faith and grace. What God has done in his life over the last 30+ years is amazing. He is an inspiration to me.

The partnership he and my mom had was beautiful. She sometimes had to be both mother and father to me because Dad often worked long hours, in addition to a demanding commute. I wanted for nothing as I was growing up. Mom was there for me. Sometimes a little too there, in my opinion at the time. In retrospect, I cherish my memories.

As a young adult, I began to grow a bit bitter about always being known as “Ed and Sarah’s son”. I wanted to carve my own name into the world. I didn’t want to live in anyone’s shadow. It finally hit me as I entered my late 20s, that it was truly an honor to be Ed and Sarah’s son. I was blessed beyond comprehension to be raised by these incredible people. They were not what I deserved, and I, certainly, wasn’t what they deserved. But God put us together in His divine providence. At this stage of our lives, and with my mom currently in God’s presence, our family has never been closer. I’m 3,000 miles away, yet, we have a level of intimacy we didn’t have when we all lived within minutes of each other.

I’m so thankful for my family. We couldn’t, and wouldn’t be what we are without the shining example of Ed and Sarah Matelli. They have touched so many lives. To have them as parents is a blessing I will never take for granted.

Happy Birthday to my heroes. Thank you, Lord, for blessing Matt, Larry, John and me with the love of such amazing people.

 

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.

IMG_2213

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

Hurdles are meant to be hurdled

“It’s not meant to be. Look at all the obstacles.”

I have seen far too many people give up on something by caving in with that way of thinking. We sometimes see obstacles as being detour signs. I’m not sure why we expect that God’s will is going to be paved in cashmere with free pizza and your favorite beverage all along the way.

The pathway to God’s will is going to be challenging. By definition, our journey is going to test our faith. It is going to require us digging in, fighting our human tendencies to lose faith. I believe that adversity is God’s way of showing us just how important our dreams are. If they’re not worth fighting for, then they’re not that important to us. If our dreams, if pursuing God’s will for us is really, truly our passion, there is nothing that will keep us from it.

Hurdles If you’ve ever been at, or watched a track meet, you may have seen a hurdles race. You may have even stood next to a hurdle. They are challenging, for sure. Even the best runners get tripped up from time to time. But the thing is, the purpose of hurdles is not to stop you. They are there to be jumped over! They’re not meant to be easy. They should be difficult to get past. But to reach the goal, you will have to go over them.

Years ago, my parents sold their home and most of their possessions in order to move to Costa Rica to start a ministry there. Whether it was governmental red tape, or outright dishonesty and thievery, they met many, many obstacles along the way. It literally lasted the first two years they were there. Uncharacteristically, my dad confessed to me that he was beginning to question whether they had made the wrong decision in going there. In a moment of spiritual clarity, I let him know that what they were doing was of spiritual significance. That means they were in the devil’s crosshairs. If what they were doing was a mistake, he would simply let them go on their merry way. He wouldn’t put up any interference.

I think of the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis. After all his brothers put him through, he had a heavenly perspective. When his brothers ultimately and humbly threw themselves at his feet in guilt and grief, Joseph said in Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Are your dreams worth fighting for? Is God’s will important enough to you that you’ll deal with any obstacle that comes your way? No matter what anyone else says or does, do you have the conviction and faith to stay the course? Do you have a heavenly perspective?

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” -Deuteronomy 31:6