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.

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!

The heart of a mom

Today is Mother’s Day. As I reflect upon this day, missing my mom, I think of the wonderful gifts to us that mother’s can, and should be. Sadly, there are many among us who do not experience the best of what mothers bring. For them, I have to imagine that this day can be hollow.

One need to look no further than the life of Jesus to understand that the mother/child relationship is intensely significant. We’re left to speculate about Jesus’ younger days. This also means we do not know what it must have been like for his parents. Because he was perfect and without sin, we can infer that he obeyed her when she asked him to take care of chores. If he was given a curfew when to be home, we can rest assured he was home on time, if not early. But this doesn’t mean it was easy. It is unnatural for a parent to outlive their children. How this mother’s heart must have been torn to shreds as her beloved son went from hero to villain in the hearts of the people in the span of one short week. The torture, the mocking, the brutal public death. All within view of his mother. And yet, from the cross, as his breaths were drawing few and far between, he looked down and made assurances his mother would be taken care of.

When I think of my mom, I think of her unwavering, unconditional love. Sadly, she had to Quotation-Richelle-E-Goodrich-strength-love-god-motherhood-mom-mother-Meetville-Quotes-223792deal with a kid who was fluent in sarcasm. I could crack wise at the most inappropriate moments. As I became a teenager and a bit more independent, I pushed her away. Everything that made her so amazing was rejected because it wasn’t “cool” to her unappreciative son. Yet, everything that made her so amazing was expected of her. In her last years, as she battled illness and was confined to a bed at least 20 hours of the day, she loved me endlessly. When I lived 2 hours from her, we would speak by phone. She loved to hear about how my day was. She wanted to know every detail. For one, it made her feel connected to me. It also allowed her heart and mind to move freely through life when her body wouldn’t allow it. As her days drew down to the end, her concern turned to who would love me and pray for me when she was gone.

Last year, I met another amazing mother. Sarah-Jane is so loving, gentle, kind and caring. The relationship she has with her boys is beautiful to behold. The love her sons have for each other makes your heart melt. The love they have for her makes my heart so warm, yet, it also grinds at my heart in remembering how it wasn’t until later in life that I became more expressive and appreciative of the love I shared with my own mom. Sarah-Jane is humble. When she receives a compliment of how uniquely special her boys are, she agrees with the compliment as it relates to their character, but bristles when it is directed to her as being such a powerful influence on the young men they are. When her boys enter the room, her spirit glows. When they leave the house for the day or longer, there is an immediate emptiness. She loves her boys with all that is within her. One day, when her sons are older, with families of their own, she will hopefully then be able to reflect on these years and see that she has done a fine work. That she has been a worthy steward of these lives left in her care.

I know an amazing mother when I see one. I was raised by one. I am in love with one. I know, first hand, the often unspoken impact the love and devotion of a good mom can have on a life. As a grown man, so close to an incredible mother, I see first hand all the behind-the-scenes elements that warm, and break a mother’s heart. “You are only as happy as your least happy child”. How profound, and how true. I am growing in understanding as to what my mom must have felt in times when I went through difficulties, and triumphs.

My heart is full today. I had the most amazing mother, and now, I am sharing my life with one cut from the same cloth. Understanding, seeing and experiencing the heart of a mother, and how God designed it, inspires me. I’m so blessed and grateful to have a place in the lives of these wonderful, godly women.

Experiencing God through emotions

Last night, Sarah and I were talking about what place emotions hold in experiencing and worshiping God. I don’t know that we broke any new ground, but it was really cool to discuss our thoughts on this. We are both very emotional people, yet deep thinkers.

God has given us emotions. They can be very powerful. Sometimes, they can even run away from us and lead us to bad behavior and decisions. However, our emotions are also a vehicle for depth in relationships, both human and divine.

Today, I stumbled upon a video of a young boy who was born with some serious medical issues. It told his story, and finished with the young man standing on stage, before thousands of people, singing one of my all time favorite songs. He isn’t the best singer in the world. Yet, he touched my heart in such a way that tears flowed from my eyes, and love pulsated through my spirit.

I, for one, need my emotions stirred. They help me feel alive. They release the floodgates of thoughts and feelings that pool up inside me. They draw me into a more profound relationship with God and people who are important to me. They enable me to put my fears and stresses in their proper perspective. They allow me to be inspired.

I am a very logical man. I do not need emotions to do these things. But at times, I truly need that release. I’m not just logical. I’m creative. I’m passionate. I’m expressive. There are times when it is absolutely necessary to let my emotions out in a healthy way.

I love worship. I love singing. I love music that grabs my heart and soul. I feel as if I’ve crawled onto God’s lap and am held in His loving, warm, safe embrace. I don’t expect that everyone is, or should be like me in this regard. We are all different. I just know that for myself, I absolutely need this level of emotional intimacy with God. It’s not about seeking for anything other than being close to Him. That is why this song, in particular, is so special to me. Is my mom, whose body was broken down by illness, dancing and leaping before God, or is she, as she was unable to do in the last dozen years of her earthly life, kneeling before Him in humble adoration?

The cares of this world are real. Sometimes, however, we just need to simply crawl onto God’s lap, and let Him hold us. It’s not always enough to just know He loves us. Sometimes we need to feel it, and offer Him whatever is in the very depths of our hearts. Just let it go. Allow it all to come to the surface.

For me, this song, this video, this young man ministered to me. I’ve heard better singers. But this isn’t for entertainment. It is a glimpse into God’s love for us, and our love for Him when we imagine what it will be like to be with Him in the place He has prepared for us, in which we will have eternal, and perfect fellowship.

Please take a few moments and watch this. Don’t be afraid to let Him touch your heart.

Best Christmas ever…so far

Like a good play, life has acts. Act one is the “kid” years. Act two is typically those middle years when many go off to college, experience independence, get married and start families.

For me, the second act has been much longer than I had anticipated.

When we assess our lives and our experiences, we do so in some form of context. I had a good childhood. Great memories. I never was left wanting for anything. Well, there were the times I wanted bikes and cars when Santa didn’t exactly come through, but I now understand that those things were not always what I truly needed. Understanding the difference between what we want and what we need comes with maturity.

As I am now in Act 3 of my life, the gap between my needs and wants has narrowed. The things that mean most to me are not even things. The best gifts I was given this year didn’t have price tags on them. The elements that made this the best Christmas ever were linked to tears and smiles that came from expressions of the heart.

I received two priceless gifts this Christmas. In chronological order, the first was a journal. It is a prayer journal Sarah-Jane started on October 25th, 2013. My mom’s birthday. As I opened it to the inside cover, she had attached a closeup photograph of my mother on the right hand page. On the inside cover, opposite her picture, Sarah wrote her first prayer for the journal. She expressed her desire to take the baton from my mom, and accept the role as the one who would pray for me, as my mom had until she died.

It took me five minutes to get past the inside cover of the journal.

The journal is an ongoing, never-ending work. So I will have to surrender it back to her before I return to California. I absolutely can’t wait to read it all over again, as well as the new installments that will await when I get to see it again in February when she comes to visit me in California.

Scrapbook

The second gift was equally touching. She created a scrapbook of our story. The very first page included wonderful details that brought us together. The book is filled with sentimental thoughts, pictures, notes and keepsakes. It was so amazing to see us through her eyes and heart.

There is nothing she could have bought me that could have meant more to me, that would have touched my heart as deeply as these two gifts. She just gets me. She knows how I think. She knows what touches my heart. God knows every detail about us, and places just the right person in our lives who knows how to love, respect and feed those parts that make us who we are.

I’m thankful that things aren’t as important to me as they once were. I’m thankful that sacrificially blessing others, speaking into their lives, sharing your heart, and thoughtful expressions of love and appreciation are the things that will span the test of time. No assembly or batteries are necessary.

This has simply been the best Christmas ever. So far.