Life lesson on cat fur

In what is no longer an unusual phenomenon in my life, I was driving to church a few months back and discovered cat fur on my sport coat. Married life has required some adjustments, and getting used to cat fur on my clothes is definitely among them.

On that particular Sunday, I really felt that God had given me a word to share with my church. During the worship set, I took the opportunity. For the 99.9% of you who weren’t there, I’m taking a moment to share it with you. Not because I’m so clever, but because this simple thought has profound meaning.

When I discovered the fur, I kind of laughed because I know I hadn’t held a cat while wearing it. The jacket had been in a closet where no cat had been. I had no idea how it got there. Be that as it may, we do have three cats, so cat fur is simply part of life.

What God inspired in my heart was simple. Cat fur on clothing is evidence that I have been in the presence of a cat. But then God turned it around on me in a moment of introspection.

What evidence is there that I have been in the presence of God?

Somehow, the cat fur attached itself to a jacket I hadn’t worn around the cats. Just so, when we spend time with God, the evidence of that relationship can’t help but be transferred to others. In fact, that is the the primary purpose of an intimate relationship with Him. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that being in His presence is evident because of the Holy Spirit. We are given gifts for the purpose of benefitting others. Gifts that bring an undeniable, life-giving encounter with God to others.

Is there evidence in your life that you have been in His presence? If not, now is a good time. You will walk away changed, and you will change the lives of those around you. God is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:60).

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Valentine’s Day 2017

I’m not necessarily one who gives in to made up “holidays” that more or less manipulate you into romance or suddenly appreciating that special someone in your life. I am not as good as I want to be, but I don’t want the calendar to dictate when and how I show my love when I have 364 other opportunities in a year to do so.

But this Valentine’s Day is special. This is my first with my amazing, beautiful wife. It has now been over four months since the wedding. In that time, I have blessed her heart in wonderful ways, and I’ve disappointed her. Blessing her heart fills me with such joy and love. The other grieves me so much, but still fills me with love.

I understand the depth of the calling on my life to be the husband of Sarah-Jane. I also know of the incredible significance and honor to be the stepdad to her wonderful, handsome and talented sons. I truly am blessed beyond my merit. But with great blessing comes great responsibility. How am I, a man with such deficiencies, able to live up to the blessing and responsibility from God.

Well, by God, of course. Through Him, I am adequately equipped. Only through Him. I have to rely on Him completely to be the man she and they deserve. She has accepted me for who I am, despite my insecurities and shortcomings. Despite my failures. She believes in me, even when I struggle to believe in myself. I understand that I have the power to lift her up and empower her, but I also have the power to devastate her if I’m not cautious. The stakes are too high to not be mindful and cautious in this great calling.

All of this to just say, publicly, I’m ridiculously in love with my wife. It’s not just the “honeymoon” phase. I’ve waited a very long time for this. I’ve been with the wrong person, and I’ve been the wrong person. But all that was a setup for what God had in store all along, for each of us.

So, on this Valentine’s Day 2017, I declare my love for my wife and stepsons by expressing my love for the God who made it all possible. And to Him who continues to make possible the impossible, to make passable the impassable, I show my gratitude by offering my heart and life to Him and those He has entrusted into my care in this life.

As some form of confirmation, as I began writing this post, the following was put up by a life long friend of Sarah’s, whose name I will leave out as I was not given her permission to publish it.  May I live up to this all the days of my life.

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NMW

T-minus 29 days. You know, when you’ve gone over 30 years of your adult life seemingly watching everyone around you get married, you get to a point when you genuinely think it’s not going to happen for you.

Three years ago last month, I met the woman who instantly and permanently changed my life. Somehow, I knew right away that my life was going to change. In October of 2013, a mere two months after discovering one another, I wrote a series of posts about what God was doing, starting with this one.

Like any good and realistic love story, there were significant challenges to overcome. While we frolicked through the fall leaves and winter snow in my visits from California, we had to talk through some serious issues. Whether it was discussing and working through hurts and mistakes from our pasts, to thinking and praying through logistics of how to make a cross-country relationship work, it was going to take 100% effort, determination and commitment.

As the calendar flipped from 2013 to 2014, we made a pact that we have kept to this day, and it will be etched in eternity on October 8th. Sarah-Jane needed assurance from me that I would do whatever it takes, that I would stand by her side no matter the challenge, and I would love her no matter the cost. As the man, I knew it was my duty to protect her heart, life, body, mind and spirit. I knew her need for assurance was my responsibility. But it has to be more than words. It must be backed up with actions. Actions that were, and often still are uncomfortable. Actions that cause me to face my biggest fears. Actions that, by facing them and being open about them, liberate me from the bondage of fear.

So, on January 1, 2014, like any mature adults, we sat at her kitchen table, curled our pinkies together, looked into each other’s eyes, and simply said, “no matter what.” We even captured the moment with this picture.

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Since that day, “no matter what” has been our rallying point. When either of us says these three simple words, it calibrates our hearts and reminds us of what God has done, is doing, and will do because we have kept Him at the center. We believed then, as we do now, that He was the one who crossed the paths of a guy in Rocklin, California with a girl in Pascoag, Rhode Island. We knew then that it wouldn’t be easy. Fortunately, we didn’t know at the time how difficult the challenges would be. But we promised one another that no matter what the mirror says, the scale, the bank account, the doctor, the opinions of others…we will stick together. When we aren’t physically together, we often text each other the equivalent of the pinky swear, “NMW”.

What an honor it is to be given the responsibility by God to love and protect another human life. In my case, several human lives as I will also be blessed with her sons, Christian and Jeremy.

Father, as we promised each other on January 1, 2014, and as we will publicly and solemnly profess on October 8, 2016, I will love, honor and protect the lives with which you have assigned me stewardship. No matter the cost, no matter the difficulty.

No matter what.

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

 

Happy Birthday SJ!

Today is the birthday of the woman who, in 135 days, will be my wife. Sarah-Jane captured my attention immediately on August 8, 2013, and has never lost it since. From her inner and outer beauty, to her rapier-like wit, there is layer upon layer of goodness that make up this precious jewel.

As for anyone, she has endured great difficulties in life. Only people with strong character and conviction come out of the worst times in their lives stronger and better. She is too humble to recognize her true value to the lives she touches. As we prepare for our wedding and people pour out their love, I have a front row seat to see how loved she is by such a vast group of people.

I’ve never doubted or questioned the gift that God has blessed me with. But as time movesIMG_2829 on and a relatively small collection of memories pile up, I can simultaneously look back at wonderful experiences, and ahead with peace in my heart that the mysteries the future holds will be shared with my best friend.

God has chosen me to be a steward of her heart. That includes providing and protecting her two greatest joys, Christian and Jeremy. Well, three greatest joys, including her four-legged troublemaker, Finn.

I love the little girl that lives within her. She is satisfied with the simple expressions in life. She notices all the little things that most of us take for granted. She has opened my eyes to these things, and I marvel.

I feel like a painter who thought there were only six colors in the spectrum before meeting someone who introduced them to an almost infinite array of color and texture.

Happy Birthday to the love of my life. I pray the day reveals just how loved and respected you are by so many. Today is your day. I know it will be filled with laughter and love.

And to make things even more perfect, as I write this, I can hear your mom in my head saying, “oh brother!”

Bonus!

Confessions of a knucklehead

Yesterday, during the music portion of our church service, I briefly shared something that is and was heavy on my heart. Many people I know are dealing with severely difficult times in their lives. I am facing certain difficulties in my own, while simultaneously celebrating wonderful blessings and answers to lifelong prayers.

Sometimes we make dumb decisions and compound them by avoidance. Many of us end up in this type of situation at some point. Whether it’s health, finances, relationships…bad decisions happen. Avoiding fixing them makes matters exponentially worse. Beneath the surface of the bad decisions, a cancer grows until it demands immediate attention.

I don’t know about you, but when I make some kind of significant mistake, I beat myself up with the power, relentlessness and devastation of an MMA champion. Yesterday morning as I was spending some quiet time with God, He reminded me of some powerful things that I want to share with you.

My cry to Him was that I felt completely unworthy to be on the platform leading worship or participating in any kind of ministry on that day. But God quickly cut me off. He wasn’t bothered by my thought that I was humbled and broken before Him and valued my role as a leader in my church and my responsibility as such. He was more concerned with my notion that I ever considered myself worthy to be in that position in the past. Who among us is truly worthy? While we were sinners, while our hearts were hardened to Him, while we were overtly turning our backs on Him, Jesus died for us. I fail Him daily. Hourly. In good times, I forget just how completely dependent I am for every single thing. Every breath. Every moment. Every detail.

Next, He reminded me of a conversation I had with Sarah earlier in the week. In seeing what people around me are going through, I have prayed and believed God would reveal Himself and miraculously see them through these trying times. She asked me, “do you believe God can deliver you and heal you as you believe He can for others?”

Simple question, right? But in all honesty, I felt that because what others are going through are more tragic and not their own faults, it’s different for them than for me. Simply, it’s easier for me to believe in miracles for others than for myself. That’s when Sarah got very real with me.

“Then that makes you a liar.”

Ouch.

Just as God’s reminder that I’m not worthy and I must depend on Him in good times and bad, Sarah’s words weren’t said in anger or to slap me down. These words were brutal truths. If I deny the extent of God’s power in my own life, while promoting it to others, I make either God a liar, or I am speaking falsely.

God can’t lie, so that made the conclusion pretty obvious.

Then God brought to my attention the following few verses in Isaiah chapter 6.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LordAlmighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

In the verses that follow, God’s redemption of the contrite heart is immediately followed by a call to action. Though I am unworthy, though I feel shame for my mistakes and shortcomings, He supernaturally removes the guilt of our sin.

In our weakness, in our failures, in our desperation, God redeems. He forgives. He restores us. He sends us out to share who He is and that He loves us unconditionally, even when we might even hate ourselves.

I cannot complete the simplest task without His favor. He can remove the air from my lungs. He can allow my heart to stop beating at any moment. He can isolate me from people I love, and who love me. Instead, He is blessing me abundantly. How can I not trust Him? How can I not honor Him?

Sometimes, we must be broken down to nothing. Beaten to a pulp. It is then that potterthe formless lump of clay can be molded by the Potter’s hand. The hard part is remaining pliable and desperate for Him when we feel self-sufficient. When we try to do things on our own, we’re destined for failure. When we place our trust in Him, when we seek Him with all our heart, He will be found, and He is, was, and will always be faithful.

Thankfully, it’s not about who I am, but who He is.

Mother’s Day 2016

This week has been like no other in my life. What a ride! To cap it off, I have the privilege to honor one of the two best moms who ever mom’d. Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post telling the story of my mom, and my now-fiancee. My mom’s name was Sarah Jane, and the woman God has ordained to be my life’s partner is Sarah-Jane. The similarities only start there.

I was blessed with an amazing mother. By virtue of her example, I know an incredible IMG_6752mother when I see one. Sarah-Jane has two incredible boys. I am so fortunate to soon be the stepfather to these young men who love each other and their mom in such a special way.

I was a knucklehead when I was a kid. Though I had such an incredible mother who sacrificed so much for me, I didn’t appreciate her nearly as much as she deserved. Sarah-Jane’s boys are so far ahead of me in that department at the stages of life they are in.

I couldn’t be more proud of Sarah-Jane for the mom, and the woman she is. She is so loved and respected by so many people, and her sons know they were blessed by God with the woman he chose to raise them.

My mom has been gone since 2009, but her influence is alive in my heart to this day, and I know her seal-of-approval is etched in Sarah-Jane. They never met in this life, but the two women who have loved me most will one day meet in eternity.

Though I was slow in appreciating my mother, I was able to learn how important it is to recognize the special bond between moms and their kids. And because of that, I know just how wonderful a mom and woman I have in my life today.