I Remember

17 years.

Seventeen.

I remember not only when the planes hit the towers. I remember not only when the towers fell. I remember a united America. I remember American flags proudly hanging from freeway overpasses. I remember our churches being filled beyond capacity.

On that day, we were all covered in ash. We didn’t focus and obsess on what made us different. It wasn’t about our skin color, our gender, our religions, our politics, or anything else. We were united in our grief. In our shock. In our support for those who died. And for those who risked their own lives to save others, even when it was obvious it was a one way trip up those stairways.

Now, 17 years later, I grieve over how far we have drifted. We fight over every little thing. We insult. We threaten. We attack one another routinely. We preach, but don’t practice tolerance. This level of division hasn’t been seen in half a century.

On that day, 17 years ago, we were attacked from the outside. Today, we’re imploding from the inside. Our character, our integrity, our humanity has been pulverized into dust.

Perhaps the darkest day in American history, it brought out our very best. We rallied behind our President. Members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, stood on the Capitol steps, joined hands, joined hearts, passionately sang God Bless America.

To recognize where we are, we must remember where we came from. We must recognize how far from our best we have drifted. And we must all grab an oar, and begin rowing together to return to a place of dignified unity. We will still have our differences. But we can also maintain our civility and humanity. Rather than focus on what makes us different, remember that there is much more that unites us.

I remember.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

II Chronicles 7:14

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.

Somewhere, pigs are flying

The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.

Thomas Paine

Two years and nine months ago, my life changed forever. I knew it then, and I know it now more than ever. That knowledge didn’t mean it came easily. It’s been anything but easy. That’s why the quote above has been one to which I’ve held closely for some time. In fact, I remember sharing it with Sarah-Jane very early on in, what was then, our long-distance relationship.

For those of you who know us and have been following our relationship in person, or perhaps on Facebook, you may know that the past two years have been fraught with challenges. We have always gotten along incredibly. But there were things we had to walk through together, and individually. It’s been a grueling process. But how glorious the triumph.

It is my profound pleasure and blessing to announce for the both of us, we are engaged to IMG_5388be married!

I know, right?

True to our personalities, there was no fanfare in the moment of engagement. After the road we have each taken in our lives to get to this moment, we just had a private moment when we mutually shared and agreed that it’s time.

God has taken each of us through something of a gauntlet in life, and in our relationship. But the conflict has never been with each other. It has been with wrestling with our individual regrets, disappointments and consequences in our lives before we knew one another existed. Those challenges really stressed us and our relationship significantly. There were stretches where we were essentially mere friends. But God never gave up, even when it was tempting for us to do so.

For those of you in Rhode Island, before you even ask, there is no ring yet. We shopped a little over the weekend, and we think she found what she wants. So it’s coming in the near future. I don’t know how guys do it, surprising their ladies and popping open a ring box. I wouldn’t pick out a top or a pair of shoes for her without her approval. No way I’m doing that with a ring!

So, with all that said, thank you to those who have invested in us. Those of you who have prayed for us. Those of you who have taken our phone calls and bazillion text messages when we needed our friends. We will be revealing more plans as time moves on, but we’re both too stinking excited to not share this all with you!

 

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.

600 Months

February 25th, 1965. The day I was born. 100 years earlier, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War were in their final days. But this day would be my first. Because 50 sounds like such a big number for an age, I have been jokingly saying I prefer to see it as 600 months.

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For whatever reason, we measure a baby’s age in months up until they hit 24 of them. 600 months ago, the doctor turned me face down, patted my back firmly, but tenderly, and I coughed up the amniotic fluid that remained in my lungs from my development in the womb. I took my first breath. I was held by my mother for the first time.

480 months ago, I turned 10 years old. Finally, double digits. I could hold up two hands, with all fingers extended, to illustrate just how old I was. For me, this was a signifiant milestone on the road to being a man.

444 months ago, I turned 13. This is a number that, in any other context, has a negative stigma. But when it comes to the aging process, I’m a teenager! Life is going to change with the flip of the calendar! I was in 7th grade. I had my own locker and had to walk from class to class. No more sitting in one room all day, with one teacher. This was like college would be, except mom still had to drive me to school.

408 months ago, I turned 16. Look out, world! That learner’s permit would soon convert to a fully-fledged driver’s license! Possibilities were endless.

382 months and 21 days ago, on April 4, 1983, my life changed forever. This was the day that I willingly and wholeheartedly invited Jesus into my heart. It wasn’t done with any church fanfare. There was no music, no pastors or elders. I was alone in my bedroom. No emotional compulsion. It was the next step for me, and the time was now.

384 months ago, I officially became an adult! As significant a milestone as that is in the growing-up process, an ominous tone was set that I didn’t recognize at the time. Symbolically, perhaps, it was this day that I registered for selective service. The draft. In the event that our country went to war, and it would be necessary to supplement the existing personnel on active duty, I signed my name. Kind of a subtle welcome to the enormity of adulthood.

348 months ago, I was in bible college as I turned 21. Yes, while many of my peers were taking this opportunity to legally consume adult beverages until their bodies forced the contents back from whence they came, I was at the off-campus home of a fellow student, with a group of great friends, as they celebrated with me.

Up until this point, significant birthdays came about every 36 months. But when you turn 21, that gap begins to widen.

240 months ago, I exited my 20s. This was not a happy day. My mom was 29 years old when she had me. Now I’m 30. How did this happen so quickly?

204 months ago, I remember lamenting to my mother that I was now 33. This was the age when Jesus died. I saw this as some sort of sign that any hope of significance was now gone. That was when she gently, and wisely reminded me that this was also the same age when Jesus rose from the dead, and He rose to a whole new significance.

120 months ago, I turned 40. FORTY. I remember teasing my parents about being old geezers when they turned 40. Now I am that ancient. This was not a happy day, but again, I was blessed to ring it in with some great friends.

72 months ago, my mom sang Happy Birthday to me for the last time. 23 days later, she went to be with Jesus.

18 months and 17 days ago, God introduced me to the most wonderful woman. She captivated my mind and heart immediately.

12 months ago, Sarah-Jane came to visit me from Rhode Island to celebrate my birthday. What a special time we had. Introducing her to friends, family, seeing San Francisco, and sharing a sliver of my life with her. It was wonderful. It was also over 70 degrees the whole time. (What I wouldn’t give to have a 70 degree day right now.)

51 weeks and 3 days ago, I embarked on a cross country journey to New England. Leaving behind the people and memories the previous 588 months and 5 days held. But moving forward to pursue what lies ahead.

Today, I have no idea what specifically lies ahead of me. What I do know is that there will be wonderfully happy days, and there will be gut-wrenchingly difficult ones. The earthly life clocks for many will begin, and others will end. Even though there is no way to disguise my age to make it seem less than it is, I believe that by the mere fact that I am still drawing air into my lungs, there are still things to be done. Moments not to be missed. Lives to touch. Challenges to accept. Tears to cry. Joys to behold.

I’m quite certain that the months that have passed outnumber the ones I have yet to live. But whether it is one month, or hundreds, I press on knowing that life is a gift. The closest we get to immortality in this life is in inspiring and blessing others. The people who have come and gone in my 600 months live on in my heart and mind. Their influence lives on in my life because of the things they taught me. The things they gave me. I hope I have been a good steward of those thing by passing them on to others throughout my journey.

For today, the journey continues. For all of us.

Unlikely paths crossed

It was one year ago today that my life changed. Who could have known that what started as a purely benign thought, would be the first step of a new life? I won’t re-hash how this all happened. I wrote a series of posts back in October, starting with this one, that offer all the detail, and likely more, than you’d ever want to know about how Sarah-Jane and I met. But if you’d like to take a look again, or for the first time, please be my guest.

It was August 8, 2013. A day like any other. But it wasn’t. A simple email would prove to be the flapping of tiny wings in the so-called butterfly effect in my life. I’ve probably written thousands of emails over the years, both personal and professional. But none were as important as that first one, a year ago today.

God does some amazing things that begin with such a simple, little step. I had no idea what treasure would await on the other end of the email, sent to the other end of the continent. Who knew that one day, I would be face to face with the woman on the other end of that email? In the house, and room where it was received. Who could have known that I would get to know the heart and mind of the person who captured my intrigue with her wit and use of the English language?

God is not bound by the restraints of time and distance. Sarah and I had walked very different paths that led to that fateful encounter. Our connection makes no sense in the logical mind. But God knew, long before we existed, that this day would come. He knew the traits I needed in a partner, and He knew the tools I would need in order to be the right man for her.

This year has been a whirlwind. It has had some wonderful high points, and some gut-wrenching challenges. A healthy, strong relationship isn’t forged by the good times. It is the intense heat of fire that purifies and strengthens us. We have each had our resolves tested. There have been times when it seemed that maybe this was just going to be too difficult. There were times when logic seemed to dictate that this was just crazy thinking.

But then there’s the God factor.

Our ways are not His ways, nor His ways ours. I have tried things my way, and they never work. When we submit ourselves to His way, we are not dragged kicking and screaming into some miserable dungeon of horror and bondage. When we let Him direct our paths, we release Him  to do what He does. He makes our crooked ways straight. He takes our regrets, pains and mistakes, and recycles them into things of value, from which wisdom and character bloom.

My life was forever changed one year ago. It was one tiny step. From that step, another. photoAnd from that one, yet another. I believe I am a better man on August 8, 2014 than I was 365 days ago. I hope I am a better man on August 9 than I am today. Sarah-Jane has blessed my heart and life in ways I don’t even completely see. One day, long from now, if God allows, I will be able to look back on these days, and the ones yet to dawn, and see a beautiful testimony of His love and faithfulness to us. His mercy. His grace. His gentle leading. His loving discipline.

I had no idea that the paths that were crossed one year ago, would lead me into a new, palatial dwelling place of intimacy with God.

We have made some wonderful memories over this past year. I am excited to see what is yet to come. But all in due time. What a blessing it is to share this journey with my best friend.

Thank you, Lord, for these paths that You crossed.