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.

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.

Christmas, and heaven, are for children

It began with a baby. A night like every other was also a night like no other. A baby struggled His way into the world. In doing so, He changed it forever.

There is something special, pure and exhilarating about seeing the unbridled joy and wonder in the eyes of a child at Christmas. For the adults, it can be a beating. Life is hectic. It’s filled with pressure. It’s filled with elbows and impatience in the stores. We have lost the wonder.

Jesus came into the world as humbly as possible. A gooey, completely dependent infant. The head which would one day be scarred with a crown of thorns, couldn’t be supported by His tiny, weak neck. His voice, which spoke the universe into existence, couldn’t be heard until his lungs were free of the fluid which enveloped him for nine months. The Savior of the world, umbilically connected to a simple teenage girl.

In Matthew 18, the disciples asked Jesus who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In what must have been a startling moment for them, Jesus told them that we must “change” and become like little children in order to enter the kingdom. He went on to say that those who assume a lowly place of a child would be the greatest in heaven.

Humility. Instead of jostling for position, instead of bickering and competing with one another, instead of having to be right, we are called to be humble. Not immature. Not ignorant. But humble.

When we are in a state of humility, and we are in the presence of something glorious and astounding, we are overwhelmed with wonder, just like the wide-eyed awe of a child. This is where we need to be. This is where I need to be.

As we celebrate and consider the meaning and joy of this day, let us be mindful of what we can learn from a child. Let us not be so dignified that we can’t allow ourselves to be stunned into silence, with our mouths agape, as we consider the glory of the Christ child. Let your heart be a humble manger.

Experience the joy and the wonder of Christmas, like a humble child.

Sarah-Jane’s Birthday!

Today is Sarah-Jane’s birthday. For no specific reason, necessarily, I have randomly <cough cough> IMG_2692-1chosen  40 reasons why I love and admire her. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Her amazing, loving, heart
  2. Her smile. It lights up a room, and my heart
  3. Her laugh. It is one of the happiest sounds I’ve ever heard
  4. Her mind. She doesn’t know it, but she’s brilliant
  5. Her style. It’s all her own, and expressive of her creativity and personality
  6. Her love of God. She inspires me everyday
  7. Her love of her children. They have never gone a single day of their lives unaware of her undying love and devotion
  8. Her love of music. I’ve been a musician nearly all of my life, but her love of music has given me a deeper appreciation
  9. Her humor. She is wicked funny! (New England is rubbing off on me)
  10. Her wisdom. I have never seen her give her kids or me bad advice. Even when it seems like it doesn’t make sense, time always proves her right
  11. Her humility. She does nothing for self glorification. She lives to make others look better, or even just good. She has a servant’s heart, and is often overlooked for this great attribute. But that’s often the plight of genuine servants
  12. Her friendship. When she becomes your friend, you have gained a fan. She will take your secrets to the grave, if you want her to. She will be there to listen to you when you need her. She will pray for you. She will weep when you weep, and rejoice when you do. Genuinely
  13. Her loyalty. She will not turn her back on you. Ever
  14. Her wit. It’s lightening quick, and equal parts humorous and deep
  15. Her emotions. I know she sometimes hates being an emotional person, but after being raised by one such woman, I appreciate a person who feels deeply, and is expressive
  16. Her beauty. Both inside and out, she is the definition of beauty
  17. Grace under pressure. She has endured a lot in life, and she never gave in to distractions and destructive behavior
  18. Her relationship with her family. I love watching them in action. Whether it’s talking about old memories, working together to get things done, or just sitting around cracking bad jokes and puns, I love that she is close to her parents
  19. Her sense of adventure. It doesn’t have to be some huge outing. It can be quite simple. But her appreciation to just getting out and experiencing life is fun and exciting
  20. Her integrity. She will not take a short cut that requires fudging on the rules. Even if something will take longer or cost more, she will do the right thing even when no one else would judge or fault her for cutting corners
  21. She is not materialistic. She gets more excited at the thought of a picnic in a park in Boston than sitting in a swanky restaurant eating food you can’t pronounce
  22. Her X-ray vision. No, not the superpower. Although it just might be, but not like in the comics and movies. She has a way of seeing in others what most people don’t notice. I am a chief beneficiary. She sees and appreciates qualities in me that make me feel bulletproof, confident and secure.
  23. Her faith. When my mom was dying, she questioned aloud who would pray for me as she did. I see how Sarah-Jane prays for those she loves, and I’m blessed to be among them.
  24. Her transparency. I have not met someone so open and honest with their disappointments, failures and difficulties. She doesn’t even know the extent to which these events have strengthened her and made her an even better person…and a great success in the most meaningful way
  25. Her love of coffee. This is probably an odd thing to point out, especially from a non coffee drinker. But I love that when I, or someone she loves brings her an unexpected cup of coffee, she lights up as if she was given a fuzzy little kitten
  26. Her authenticity. She is WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get). She doesn’t put on masks to impress or get along with people. She’s who she is. She is consistent, no matter where she is or who she’s with
  27. Her singing. The girl LOVES to sing. And though she doesn’t believe me, I think she’s pretty darned good at it. I’ve never heard her miss a note. Plus, she’s a freak. She knows the lyrics to every song ever written (so it seems)
  28. Her love of baseball. What more needs to be said?
  29. Her punctuality. I appreciate being with a woman who has never made me wait…and wait…and wait…and wait…
  30. She is a dreamer. I love sitting and listening to her dreams. They are simple, but profound
  31. She is a great teacher. I have had the privilege to be around her for much of this school year. It has been a challenging year for her, but she is energized by her students and helping them succeed in their development
  32. Her compassion. I have seen her weep and rejoice, genuinely, for things that most people would hardly notice. Most of us, even when we notice people or animals in distress, will do something about it. She is a person of action
  33. Her character. Even when someone does her wrong, she will never return evil for evil
  34. Her approachability. It is uncanny how just about anywhere and everywhere we go, random people will just strike up a conversation with her. She is so friendly, people are just naturally drawn to her
  35. She knows me. Very few people in my life have known what makes me tick. No one has ever known me as she does. She instinctively knows what will touch and bless my heart
  36. She is protective. As a mama bear, she can be very mild-mannered…until someone goes after someone she loves
  37. Her dorkosity. Yeah, I just made that word up. But I love how we can walk into a Walmart, and she’s not afraid to grab a hula hoop and show how it’s done!
  38. Her receptive spirit. We have had many, many deep, introspective conversations. She is very open to my observations. She is not trying to compete with me. She is eager to see herself through my eyes, and that maybe she’s not as bad as she thinks
  39. Her values. She had many other options available to her when choosing who she would allow into her heart. But despite the inherent challenges of a long distance relationship, she was willing to give the guy in California a chance based on the unique connection they had
  40. She is my best friend. As much as we have a romantic connection, it would mean nothing were it not for the friendship we have developed. There is no one on earth I trust with my innermost thoughts and feelings. There is no one I’d rather spend my time with, even if the activity isn’t an enjoyable one. And even though I’ve been blessed with wonderful people in my life, I am more complete and fulfilled when I am sharing them with her, and her with them

I am blessed. I’ve said it many, many times. I am blessed beyond my merit. God’s grace is demonstrated when He gives us what we don’t deserve. I can’t think of anything I’ve done in my life, or ever will do that would make me deserving of Sarah-Jane and these relatively few qualities that set her apart.

I pray that this day, and every day after, she will be blessed beyond her wildest imagination. She gives and gives. She loves and loves. She expects nothing in return. From anybody. She inspires me every single day.

Thank you, Sarah-Jane, for changing my life. Happy Birthday!