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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Humbled

It’s shortly after 6 AM and I’ve been awake an hour already. This is not my normal schedule, but this is not a normal week.

As I lay in bed, brain completely dominating my body’s cry for rest, I began to dwell on the fact that in the next few days, I will have friends traveling by various means from different parts of the country. They will all descend upon Rhode Island for the purpose of attending my wedding.

I am overwhelmed.

Gratitude doesn’t begin to describe what fills my heart as I consider the sacrifices, time and expense these people are going through to share the most special day of my life. My brother and his family have already been on the east coast for the better part of the week, and I can’t wait to see them in a couple days. Dear friends I knew in California will be arriving from Florida, West Virginia and Ohio. Then a special contingent who transcend the friend category. They are family. They will be hopping on a red eye tomorrow night and arriving in Boston early Thursday morning.

You should know me by now that when I think of what people will do to be there humility-in-praye-1024x605when we celebrate and when we mourn, my mind automatically considers the sacrifice and faithfulness of God that He is available to me through everything, Who am I that I would deserve the love and sacrifice of my friends and family? Who am I that God would be my faithful companion?

My heart is full. My body is tired. My brain is an attention-seeking control freak.

This is the greatest week of my life!

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.

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.

Mission Field: Facebook

I am a Christian. Hopefully this statement doesn’t come as a surprise to those of you who know me. Even if you don’t know me well, even if we haven’t had conversations about faith, church or anything else, I hope that the way I have presented myself, my speech, my character, and my behavior hasn’t compromised my identity as one who loves God and loves people. Hopefully I’ve made you laugh. Hopefully I’ve brought something of value to your life. Hopefully, if you need someone to talk to or ask for prayer, you’ll feel I’m someone you can trust. Hopefully our association has changed your opinion of Christians as they are characterized by Hollywood and those who think we hate those who aren’t like us.

My intended audience for this post is my fellow believers. If you’re not one who goes to church or considers yourself to be “religious”, please don’t feel that this means you need to stop reading. In fact, I encourage you to continue reading. I and my intended audience welcome you hold me/us accountable.

It’s easy to define the mission field as some far off foreign country. For over a century, yeah, that’s pretty much been accurate. People leaving the familiarity and comfort of their home, families and culture to go off to some impoverished people on the other side of the planet. Today, the world is quite literally at our fingertips. At any moment of the day, you have the ability to communicate with people all over the world.

Here’s where I’m going with this. In “real life”, how do we communicate? A conversation? Of course. Our words are a very important part of communication. However, it’s really only a fraction of how and what we communicate about ourselves. No matter where you go, no matter what you’re doing, you’re communicating with people you don’t even realize. How you dress communicates something. How you respond to stress, the music you listen to, the jokes you tell, the pictures on your wall or desk at work, your attitude, your work ethic. These are just some of the almost infinite ways we communicate who we are and what we’re about.

With that being said, I think of social media. Last quarter, Facebook reported over 1.19 billion monthly active users. One in seven people on earth use Facebook. My question to you is, what are you communicating to your mission field? I have to admit, I have been seriously disturbed by some of the things I have seen posted by Christians I know. I have seen vile profanity, I have seen sexually provocative and even perverse “shares” and “likes” of material that grieves the heart of God.

I am no prude, nor am I perfect. I have found things to be funny that I know God doesn’t approve of. I am human. You are too. I get it. But I am a child of the most-high God. I represent Him. I fail Him, but I am still His ambassador to anyone and everyone who I communicate with, both directly and indirectly. facebook

Just as I don’t walk around with a twenty pound bible with which I bludgeon people over the head, I don’t use Facebook as a battering ram of piety. I post videos of cats, I rant and joke about sports and pop culture. I occasionally share some of my political views as they relate to the direction of our country and current events. I am not fake. I really try to be as real as I can be. It does no one, including you and God, any good if you pretend to be one thing to the public, but you’re someone completely different when no one is looking.

My challenge to you, and to myself, is that our lives are a fitting and suitable representation of a life changed and perpetually influenced by the saving and unmerited grace of God. Be real. Be a human being. Laugh, cry, joke, rant. Be flawed, but be honest. People respect and identify with authenticity. When you miss the mark, share what God taught you through it. Testify of God’s mercy and abundant grace. Moses, David, Solomon, Peter, Paul and countless others in the bible failed God miserably at times. They all failed in what they communicated to others. But they also turned it around and brought glory to God and influenced those who were watching them.

We are to be in the world, not of it. The world’s standard is not God’s. We live by a higher moral code. Share your cat videos. Share your funny memes. But think carefully about the stuff to which you attach your name, your reputation and your associations. Be consistent. In real life as well as online, the things you say and do should not contradict each other. Out of the same mouth cannot come blessing and cursing. Whether people admit it or not, they want and need us to be different. They desperately need to see that we can walk through life right beside them, but we don’t fall into the same traps because God is alive in our hearts and lives. They need the hope we profess.

They are watching.

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.