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.

Advertisements

My dad’s secret life

When we think of people and their secret lives, we automatically think of something scandalous. Jared from Subway and Josh Duggar are currently in the eyes of their respective storms for their secret lives. We are conditioned that secret lives are exclusively for those who are hiding their transgressions so they may protect their public reputation.

Then there are people whose secret lives conceal activities which would only magnify what people already think of them.

My dad was such a man. I was raised by a man who lived to serve and protect others. He was a former United States Marine. Some years after completing his service for our country, he became a San Francisco police officer. Following his career in law enforcement, he became an ordained minister, and with my mom, served at an orphanage in Mexico, then moved to an impoverished part of Costa Rica ministering to people in great need. I could easily list his accomplishments and achievements so you would be impressed.

My dad would be embarrassed by that.

I’m very proud of who he was. The secret life he led touched lives everywhere he went. IIMG_5451 remember when he gave our family car to a young couple who were in ministry at our church. They had a very young family, and on an associate pastor’s salary, they couldn’t afford to buy a much-needed vehicle to accommodate them. Dad recognized the need, and simply gave ours to them. No fanfare. Had there been Facebook then, you never would have seen it posted, and he would have strongly required that the family who got the car not tell the story in any other way than God provided it for them through by speaking to an anonymous servant.

To this day, I am so turned off by people who, by social media or in everyday conversation, speak of themselves and their every thought and activity. We live in a very self-promoting, self-centered generation.

While living and ministering in Costa Rica, my parents were ministering in a church. At some point in the service, the pastor inexplicably called a young, single girl forward to stand before the pulpit. It was then that he publicly spoke of how this young lady was pregnant and in sin. Apparently, this was standard operating procedure in this church. My dad, standing in the front row, moments before he would speak to the congregation, stepped forward and stood next to the young lady.

“I’m Ed, and I’m a sinner, too.”

My mom told me of this, because he never would.

Later in life, after they moved back to California due to my mom’s illness, my dad did so many other little things to bless people. On Fridays, he would go to Krispy Kreme and buy dozens of doughnuts. He would then drive around to their various doctors’ offices and deliver the treats to those who took such great care of them. He frequently gave boxes of candy to my mom’s hospital nurses.

Whether ministering to pastors and missionaries, or to hospital nurses and doctors’ assistants, Dad had a special vision and knew how to show appreciation and serve those who serve. Those who are expected to do extraordinary things, and who were easily overlooked for their service.

There are many, many things I can list here, but that would defeat the purpose of honoring the example and character of a great man. These things he did, and the many secrets he took with him as he entered God’s presence on August 5th, were not for his glory, but God’s.

What is your secret life? Is it one you want hidden so that people will not be disappointed? So that your reputation won’t be damaged? Or is it a life that is dedicated to honoring and revealing the love of God to those around us?

This week, as I had a private moment at my dad’s open casket, I quietly thanked him for his love and example. He showed me so much, yet told me so little. I share these things with you to challenge you, as I have been challenged. How willing am I to do something that would make a great Facebook or Twitter post, that would make people really like and respect me, but do it only out of obedience to God, and only for His glory, not mine? May I truly want only God and His beneficiary to know of my involvement.

May my secrets bless those who God ordains, and may they bring glory to Him, and Him alone.

Springing to life

Today is March 20th. It is the first day of Spring. It is also the sixth anniversary of my IMG_4600mom’s passing from earth’s winter, into her eternal Spring, the arms of Jesus. I didn’t realize until about a week ago that her death, and her new life, came on the first day of Spring. Maybe that’s because in California, the first day of Spring doesn’t mean much because the weather is Spring-like for a good month or two by then. But in New England, Spring means you technically survived a long, rugged winter. I say technically because it snowed today for the first time in weeks. Figures.

Life is so much like our seasons. Some years, it seems like varying degrees of Spring. Maybe you have a storm here and there. But nothing major. It goes about as quickly as it came. But then there are the long, grueling winters that really grind at your resolve to go outside and deal with all the stuff that has piled up around you.

When my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and told she only had weeks to live, she was completely at peace. Completely. She was not afraid to die. She knew her destination. She knew that what was ahead was much greater than what she was leaving behind.

This winter has been brutal. In every sense of the word. Physically, emotionally, mentally. Even native New Englander say this winter has been one for the record books. And I survived it. It didn’t defeat me. It didn’t send me packing for the relative comfort of California. There have been times, not just during the calendar winter, but the life one, that it seemed giving up was the answer.

It can be tempting, when the going gets tough, to pack your things and move to a more comfortable “climate”. But it’s those grinding winters that make Spring more beautiful. More rewarding. Life is challenging. It can be downright brutal. But I have survived it. When the Spring comes, I will bathe in its beauty. I will breathe it in. But can I maintain that level of appreciation when the storm seems to be trying to kill me?

My mom sure did. That woman went through the storms of life that would break a lot of people. But anyone who knew her never knew when there was a storm in her life, and never knew the storms she endured earlier in life. Not because she was fake. But because she had a strength, grace, and peace that passes all understanding. And because she was more interested in how others were doing, than herself.

She has been gone for 6 years. And yet, she is still teaching and inspiring me to this day. God blessed me, and countless others, with her influence. I fall so drastically short of her example. Of her legacy. But I press onward. May this long, grueling winter make me a stronger, better man. And when that day comes, that first day of “Spring”, when I am face to face with my Lord, may I not leave this world defeated by the winters. But let them strengthen me, give me an appreciation and longing for what lies ahead. There must be nothing in this world that is more significant than pleasing my Father in Heaven. When that’s the case, there can be nothing on this earth that can break me. No matter how hard it tries.

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!

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.

Who is influencing whom?

When I turned 16 years old, with my brand new driver’s license, my parents sat me down to have a serious conversation. With the privilege awarded to me by the state, it was important for my parents to remind me of my responsibilities in my life. During this heart-to-heart, they brought up my history of choosing good friends. My parents knew all of my friends and their families. I never had a friend of whom they disapproved.

As I grew older and more independent in life, I have come across a broader range of people and behaviors. When you leave the confines of high school, the world gets very different, very quickly. Whether you go off to college, or you enter the workplace, you’re going to be exposed to a whole new world. It can be very enticing to explore and experience new things.

It can also be dangerous.

As a Christian, it can be very difficult to know how to balance hanging Influencearound people who are good influences, and being around people who are not. It is important for us to be an example to those who need it…if we are strong enough to do that. It is necessary to spend time with people who hold us accountable and are good examples to us. However, it is very easy to get caught up with people and crowds who do things and go places that look and sound exciting, but perhaps cause us to compromise our character.

It is easy to justify our time investment in people who say and do things that we might not like our family and friends to see. We can convince ourselves that we are influencing them. Are we? Am I? Are they becoming more like me, or am I becoming more like them?

Whether it’s as a young person transitioning into a world of greater independence, or an experienced, seasoned adult, we have to take inventory. We need to honestly evaluate who we are and what is the greater influence in our lives. Are we different around one group of friends than we are with others? If one friend or group saw me involved in this particular activity, would I be ashamed?

I’m at the stage of life where many fall into what is commonly known as a ‘midlife crisis’. I have observed too many men and women in the past several years who have walked away from their families and friends in order to pursue some new relationship and lifestyle. This is something we need to guard against throughout our lives, not just as adventurous young adults.

True character is consistent in any setting. We cannot be one way with one friend, while something completely different with another. Examine yourself. Be honest. Are you consistent? Are the influences in your life healthy? Are you spending time with people who make you better? Are you spending enough time with them? Are you positively influencing those who need it? Really?

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

~1 Corinthians 15:33

A new voice

About a week or so ago, I received an email from a lady in the choir of my former church near where I live. As you may know, singing has been a big part of my life going back to when I was 19 years old. But within the last couple years, my opportunities to sing were decreasing, and with them, so was my desire. My friend from the choir was reaching out, inviting me to come back to sing. It was very nice and sincere, but there was nothing in me that felt any desire to return.

I took a couple days to really ponder my response. To do so, I had to truly examine myself and where I am in my life these days. I had some legitimate frustrations that led to my decision to stop singing publicly. But now, a good year and a half later, I want to be sure that my reason today isn’t rooted in bitterness.

As I contemplated my feelings and attitude, I am really at peace. I loved singing. I still do it from time to time while in my car. I have some songs that are special to me on my iPod on a special playlist. They are background tracks so I can just sing the songs my own way.

But it’s just for my audience of One.

As I crafted my email response, I wanted to focus on where I am today, and where I’m headed in life. It’s not about what I did for all those years. It’s about what is ahead of me. I am not a songwriter. As such, when I sing, I’m communicating the words, inspiration and experiences of other people. Now, I feel more liberty and fulfillment in communicating my own words. In a way, God is giving me a new voice.

There are simply times in our lives when we need to hit the reset button. I don’t feel as if I’m reinventing myself. I’m simply tapping into an area that was largely overshadowed by other things. It’s a little weird calling this my “new voice”, being that this post is literally my 400th on Crossing Paths. But I do feel a surge of energy and new significance in writing.

I don’t have any idea to what extent my focus on writing will go, for how long, or how often. What I do know is that it’s not unlike God to take us in new directions in later stages of our lives. My parents were a great example of that. When I was growing up, they had always threatened to move to another country to get away from me. Of course, in jest. (Or was it?) But several years after my dad retired, they made good on their promise. But it wasn’t to get away from anything or anyone. It was to follow a new path, led by God.

New things are on the horizon in my life. Maybe they are in yours, as well. Maybe you don’tfind-your-voice even yet know about it. Or maybe you have some hidden talent or desire that you’ve been putting off. Whatever it is, what are you waiting for? I don’t know about you, but the past couple weeks have brought me painful reminders that life is short and unpredictable. Whatever it is, put your touch on it. It’s your voice. Don’t try to be someone else. Do what you do in a way only you can do it!