Conflicted & Angry

2000px-Thin_Blue_Line_flag.svgIt’s been a sobering few days for me. This week, the third Colorado Law Enforcement Officer in 37 days was shot and killed. This one hit close to home as he not only worked close to where I live, but I recently found out that he attended the church my kids and I recently started attending. Details continue to emerge, but in a nutshell, four officers were shot while trying to effect an arrest. One Sheriff’s Deputy, is dead.

Having spent a little over 12 years in Law Enforcement myself, currently doing private security and executive protection work, you can likely understand how it affects me anytime I hear the phrase “Officer Down.” It’s like losing a family member. We (State, Local, Sheriffs, Private Security) often fight and poke fun among ourselves. Just like family. But at times like this, we’re all the same. There’s no difference between jurisdictions or uniforms. We’re all brothers and sisters in Blue. We are family.

As we discuss the events surrounding these incidents, one question always comes up, “is the suspect, dirt bag, low life POS dead?” If not, we’ll probably joke about how he’ll soon wish he was. If he is, we’ll high five each other and say something to the effect of “good! Serves him right.” Or “he got what he deserved.” Safe to say, whatever is said, it’s not usually nice. This time around was no exception.

Police Officers PrayerAs I reflect on my own carrier in Law Enforcement, I remember three times when officers I knew personally were killed in the line of duty. One of whom I even helped field train. In those incidents, one was shot, one was hit by a drunk driver and one was hit by a distracted driver. All three killed. All three brothers in blue. All three taken too soon. Each time, the commentary was the same. Mourning for our fallen brother, nothing but hate and disdain for the suspect.

It’s the human side of us that wants an eye for an eye. When somebody hurts our family, we naturally want to retaliate. Right or wrong, it’s what comes natural to us. I freely admit, that’s my current state of mind. Pissed off that yet another brother has made the ultimate sacrifice. Enraged at the lack of value on human lives. Especially those who put their lives on the line everyday to protect us. I admit, I’m glad the suspect who killed the Deputy this week was also killed. And I’m glad it was our brothers who killed him. Yes, I believe he deserved it. And yes, now, I’m blinded by my anger.

As I was preparing to leave work, I received text messages from my kids. Each blaming the other for something that was or wasn’t done to each other. Already moody over current events, I decided not to respond, and to take my time going home. It was on the ride home that I heard God speak. That quiet little voice of His that’s louder than a bullhorn, convicting me of my attitude.

He reminded me that we are all His children. “Not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9b NIV. All this time I’ve been glad that the Deputy killed this week was a believer and likely sitting with God at this very moment. While at the same time, the assumption is that the dirt bag who killed him probably was not a believer and is now burning in hell. Which, he deserves, right?

Blessed Are The PeacemakersOne of the prayers I’ve been praying recently is for God to give me His heart. To allow me to see others through His eyes. And for a moment, I found myself wondering if Gods heart was broken over the one lost. Not the Deputy, because as a believer, he has achieved his reward. But the suspect who killed him? What has become of him? What does that do to God? Does he grieve for the soul that we assume is lost forever? I don’t imagine He was rejoicing the way I was today.

I found myself conflicted with my feelings. If we are truly seeking to be like Jesus, then shouldn’t we be just as grieved over the loss of the suspect as we are with the loss of the Deputy? I mean, when it comes down to it, haven’t we all “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?” Romans 3:23 NIV. Don’t we all “deserve” to die and be eternally separated from God? Didn’t Jesus pay the ultimate price so that we wouldn’t have to? And doesn’t the suspect fall under that collective “we” as well?

As I prepare to close out the evening and get ready for bed, I find I’m still angry. Maybe more, now that I’m thinking this way. It’s almost like I’m betraying the brotherhood. Believing that the suspect even had a soul to consider, or hinting at the fact that God could possibly care about such a retched excuse for a human being. The human emotion is winning, and honestly, I’m not interested in the conviction that’s been laid on my heart. I want to be angry. I want to hate the man that killed my brother. I don’t want, to forgive.

I’d like to tell you there’s a positive ending to this story. I’d like to say that God has softened my heart, and all is write between us. I’d like to say that I’m above all these human emotions and make myself out to be this awesomely righteous person. But then, I’d like to say a lot of things, that I can’t.

Warriors Bleed BlueWhat I can say is God is still in control. And “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 NIV. This Deputy belonged to another family. The family of God. Which means there is hope beyond the grave. And while I still struggle in the aftermath of this incident, I know that my brother is walking with the Lord. Maybe, as time goes on, I’ll be able to see the suspect through God’s heart and eyes, and also grieve for his soul.

So many things are running through my mind. It’s almost too many to put into words. We live in a world that doesn’t play by the rules. We live in our own daily routines with blinders on to the things happening around us. I look back at my own career and think about all the times I left home to go on duty. I kissed my wife and kid’s goodbye, not knowing if I would see them again. I’m guessing the Deputy who died this week did the same. But if he was like me, he too was in a routine. He always came home. He didn’t really think about whether or not he would see his family again. Then, one day, that routine was broken. He didn’t come home. Truth be told, the suspect too, probably left home thinking he’d be back. “Just like always.”

Life isn’t fair. Our routines can be broken in a moment. Leaving us with one (or more) less family members. I challenge you to break your routine now. On your terms. Take in each moment with your family and friends. If you love someone, let them know. If you’re at odds with someone, take the first step to fix it. Don’t let a tragic incident give cause for regret. And when you see a Police Officer, State Trooper, Sheriffs Deputy or even a Security Officer, tell them “Thank You.”

If ill of us“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke.

“We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” George Orwell.

“…And maybe just remind the few, if ill of us they speak. That we are all that stands between the monsters and the weak.” – Michael Sparks.

Rest easy brothers. We’ll hold the line from here.

End of Watch

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We Aren’t Perfect

m52_-_be-patient-god-isnt-finished-with-me-yet__13752_zoomI prefer peace, over conflict. Most times, I will just overlook some of the day to day annoyances in the interest of keeping the peace. Exercising the whole “pick your battles” concept. It works, most of the time. But like anything else, those things you overlook in the interest of peace, build up and may ultimately start a battle.

It’s been a good day overall. I had a late breakfast with the kids while discussing what needed to be put on the shopping list. My son and I went to the store while my daughter stayed home to get some chores and homework done. We had a light snack around two o’clock and I started making dinner around 4/4:30. In between, we watched movies. Talked on the phone. Played games on our phones (I know, I know). And once dinner was ready, we all piled into the living room to watch our favorite television show while we ate. Not a completely un-typical Saturday for us.

Then, like a plane dropping on you from above, everything just blew up. We took a break from the television, and all at once, all those annoyances I chose to overlook, pilling up on top of each other, ignited. This wasn’t done. That wasn’t done. Something I had asked to get done, still wasn’t done. Leftovers were sitting on the stove. So much stuff that needed to be done, and the kids had their noses buried in their phones. Yeah, safe to say it wasn’t pretty.

To make things worse, I have teenagers. One of whom thinks she’s an adult and can just say what she thinks, regardless of how it comes out. So, as you can imagine, I got bombarded with excuses and opinions. Many of which came out rude and disrespectful. Which, of course, put me on the defensive making comments like “who do you think you are?” And “don’t you talk to me in that tone of voice!” I’ll stop there, but it was a steady spiral down a very well-known path. Which never leads to a fun destination.

At this moment, one of the kids is getting a shower. The other is hiding. And I’m here on the couch wondering how this great day ended up like this.

It’s nobody’s fault of course. And everybody’s fault, all at the same time. Yes, the kids could have gotten off their phones and helped out with the household chores. But I didn’t have to explode the way I did either. The kids could have spoken with a little more respect. But let’s be real. They’re teenagers and they’re testing their boundaries. Becoming young adults, and learning how to communicate. They’re going to say the wrong things or use the wrong tone as they navigate these tricky waters. Truth be told, I’m still learning as well.

We aren’t perfect. We fight and get on each other’s nerves. Sometimes more often, than not. We choose what we want to do over what we should do. We put things off that should get done sooner. We make bad choices and then make excuses for why we made them. Then go our separate ways in an effort to de-escalate our emotions. Sigh. I really don’t like it when this happens.

As I tucked them each into bed for the night, I paused before kissing their foreheads to apologize for my explosion. While my points were still valid, my approach could have been handled differently. We smile, each offering comments about our part in the argument and what we could have done differently. I tell them I love them as I kiss them goodnight and turn out the light. As I leave their rooms I hear “I love you daddy. See you in the morning.” I smile and say “I love you too, goodnight.”

We aren’t perfect. Nor do we try to be. I mean, lets be real. How fun would life be if we were? I look back on these times in my own childhood and usually laugh about them. So, my guess is, the kids and I will do the same thing. Many years from now. Hopefully by then, we’ll all have learned to communicate a little bit better.

Truth be told, we’re more imperfect than perfect. We have good days and we have bad days. We argue. We say things we shouldn’t. Do things we shouldn’t. And don’t do things we should. We are completely, imperfect.

“Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me – us,  yet.”

 

Bragging

A&A 6Yeah. I know. We’re not supposed to brag. It’s not “nice.” Doesn’t look good on us. Makes us sound, pretentious. But, I feel like there are times when it’s warranted. Like now.

You’ve heard me say it before, and I’m going to say it again. I’ll continue to say it until it stops being true. Don’t get your hopes up, it’ll never stop being true. My kids, are awesome! It’s a fact! There’s no denying it. They’re just, awesome! I think they get it from their Mom. Maybe.

It’s not often that I get excited about gifts. “Receiving Gifts” is not my love language. They just aren’t a big deal for me. So, when my kids told me that they were going to make my Christmas gift this year, I just smiled and said “okay.” In all honesty, I was less than excited. In my mind, I was rolling my eyes. At least, I hope it was in my mind.

img_9500As the weeks leading up to Christmas passed, I watched as the kids got more and more excited. This started to make me more excited. They made multiple trips to multiple different stores. They did most of their work, while I was at work. They commandeered the balcony and posted hand written notes on doors and windows saying “Off Limits.” The week before Christmas, I was given strict instructions to let them know when I was on my way home so that they had ample time to put everything away before I got there.

Christmas Day finally arrived and as usual, the kids were beyond excited. Initially, that excitement was directed toward their own presents. As usual, I had my own fun. The kids always pick out the wrapping paper they want their gifts wrapped in. This eliminates the need for tags. Of course, when I wrap one’s presents in another’s wrapping paper, there’s bound to be a little excitement.

img_9482The time came for them to give me the present they had been working on for weeks. Except, they didn’t give it to me, initially. They had a couple of other gifts they had bought for me, that I opened. After “all” of my gifts were opened, they informed me that there was a clue to my last gift located between two specific movies located on the shelf in the living room. I located the movies and found the “clue” that was waiting for me: a handwritten card.

I pulled the card out and began to read. It was all I could do to keep from tearing up. The card read:

img_9483“For our dad who makes us feel blessed every day! You always say that you are the one who is blessed. But having you as a dad is the best gift God could ever give us. We can’t imagine how life is like for you, being a single dad with two crazy kids. But you still lead us to God, you support us in anything we want to do, and you never fail to put a smile on our faces. We want to thank you for being the best dad ever and for loving us with everything you have. We really are the ones who are blessed. Here is something to remind you of the blessings we feel everyday because of our loving God. We also want you to remember with this present that we love you so much and no matter where life takes us, we will always be your Kiddo and Bubba. We love you with everything we have and we are blessed to have you as our dad! Merry Christmas Daddy!”

As I choked out those last few sentences, the kids jumped up and ran to their rooms to get the present they made for me. img_9425-1Needless to say, I was speechless. It was clear that they had put a lot of thought, time and effort into it. I couldn’t help but smile. Yeah, I have AWESOME KIDS! I just don’t know how else to say it. I am truly blessed to be their Dad.

Okay. I’m sure everyone has similar feelings and stories. So here is your opportunity to brag. I give you my permission. Tell me how awesome your kids are! Brag a little. Or a lot! Let it out! Now’s your chance. And…GO!

An Epic Year!!

happy-new-year-2018-greetingsAs I sit here on New Years Day 2018, I can’t help but reflect on the adventure that was 2017. This time last year I would have never imagined it would have played out the way it did. But looking back at it now, I sit here in awe of how God works.

Toward the end of 2016, I participated in an “Annual Planning” meeting put on by a friend of mine. The idea was to take some time to pray about what God wanted for us in 2017. Whether it be personal, or business related. She facilitated some of the planning stuff. Gave us some ideas. Then allowed us some time to pray and seek God’s leading. I’ve always done an annual plan for business, but had never really asked God for His input. Clearly, I’ve been missing out.

During these times of prayer, I not only asked God for His leading. But I also confessed some of my frustrations regarding life and business. I was frustrated with the pace of business (or lack thereof). Don’t get me wrong, business was good. But it wasn’t good enough to keep up with my standard of living. Which was preventing me from doing a lot. Not only from a business stand point, but also personally. And while I know that building a new business takes time, I was a little impatient.

There were other things bothering me as well. How little time I got to spend with the kids. How much I was relying on family. How stressed I was from trying to build a new business, and how long it was taking. The interesting thing is, that the more I poured my heart and frustration out to God, the more peace I felt about the coming year. It was about this time that I felt God tell me “2017 is going to be a big year for you.” Little did I know then.

The day long exercise ended around four or five o’clock and we all went our separate ways. As I drove home, I couldn’t get what God had told me out of my mind. There was excitement and wonder about how it would play out. Would it be a steady increase in business? One big case to carry me through the year? My mind raced with ideas and speculation. I almost missed my exit while I daydreamed about the coming year.

Most of you reading this already know the end of the story. As 2017 kicked into to gear, I did my best to continue to seek Gods leading, and my business started to grow. No huge cases to get me through the year. But enough to make me feel like things were starting to get better. By the end of the first quarter, I was already at 120% of 2016’s total production. I was feeling really good. Then, March happened.

While sitting around the dinner table, I once again brought up the idea of moving. The kids and I had been discussing this for about a year now. I felt God had been prepping me for a move, but the kids and I weren’t quite united in the idea. Till now. While discussing the idea, my son finally came around and said “yeah, I think it’s time.” After that, everything seemed to go into fast forward.

During the next three months, God started to talk to me in ways I had never experienced before. Scripture started to pop out and speak at just the right time. As I discussed plans with other close friends, they inadvertently confirmed what God had been telling me. Even before I told them what God was saying. I would ask for confirmation and He would give it to me. Time, after time, after time. It was…awesome!

Over the next three months, God confirmed that I was to move to Colorado, close my business and wait on Him for further instructions. It was that last part that would prove to be the most difficult.

I closed my business, put my house on the market, and packed. We left for Colorado on July 8th. I still owned my house, didn’t know where I was going to live and didn’t have a job. But God said “go,” so we did.

The next ten days were spent driving out to Colorado and finding a place to live. We took our time. Turned a three day drive into a five day drive so we could explore new destinations and spend some time with friends along the way. We were just outside of Biloxi Mississippi when my Realtor called and told me that she sold my house. I couldn’t help but think “God? Was that a test?”

The final leg of our journey (well, this part of it anyway) would prove to be the most exciting. The trip would take us a little over ten hours. The excitement and anticipation of our new home building with each hour and mile that passed by. This was turning out to be an epic journey that none of us would ever forget. The excitement increased even more as the Rocky Mountains started to appear in front of us. All building to that awesome moment when we passed the sign that read “Welcome to Colorful Colorado.” A couple more hours of driving and we arrived at our hotel. This part of the journey was over. And one question seemed to be on all of our minds…”now what?”

The next two and half months would be awesome and frustrating all wrapped up in one crazy package. We had five days to find a place to live. It came down to the last day. What seemed to be the only three-bedroom apartment in Colorado Springs became available on the same day our hotel reservation ended, which just so happened to be the same day the moving company arrived to drop off our furniture. Yeah. If that doesn’t make you turn your gaze skyward, I don’t know what will.

We spent the next two months unpacking and getting adjusted to the new climate. My frustration grew as I received rejection letter after rejection letter in my search for a new job. I couldn’t even get an interview! But at the same time, the kids and I were continuing to have adventure after adventure. It was like an all summer long vacation. Just the three of us.

The time arrived to get the kids registered for school. God stepped in again and made room to get Alexys into a school that offered the International Baccalaureate program. An adventure in and of itself. Andrew is in a school that has awesome teachers whom he seems to really like and connect with. And yet, still no job for me. I confess, I wasn’t very good at this whole waiting thing.

I would finally find the job God had for me at the beginning of October. It’s a ministry position that I absolutely love! When this all started back in March, I felt God leading me into a ministry role. And here I am, doing something that uses all my experience from the last 20 years, for His purposes. It’s almost unbelievable how it’s all come about. Almost.

As I look back to that Annual Planning day at the end of 2016, I’m reminded of all the things I confessed to God. All the things that were frustrating me. And now seeing how God addressed each and every one of them, in His own way, is absolutely amazing. It wasn’t anything like how I had imagined it. But His adventure has been so much better than anything I ever could have imagined. God has used this experience to teach me so much about trusting Him and “leaning not on my own understanding.” 2017 was an epic year. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for 2018.

It is my prayer that you too, have been able to look back at 2017 and see the hand of God working in your life. I welcome you to share something in the comments below about your year. What stands out to you? How did God work in your life? Above all else, I pray you have a wonderful 2018 with an abundance of God moments. Be Blessed.

Ambushed

It’s Sunday night. I’m sitting at my kitchen table because my daughter asked me to sit with her while she does her homework. Aside from the fact that I just want to go to bed, I don’t mind. The truth is, I cherish these moments more and more. The reality that I only have a couple more years with her living at home is not lost on me. So, I sit. She’s writing out flash cards for Spanish. She explains everything she’s doing as she goes along. Half talking to me, half to herself. I smile.

Truth be told, it’s the first real smile of the day. It’s just been a “blah” day. One of those “I’m just not feeling it” kind of days. Couldn’t really place my finger on it till later this evening. Then it hit me. I’d been ambushed.

It’s funny really. I hear the word “ambush” and my mind goes back to my military days. Whether it be scouting the perfect spot for an ambush, or reacting to contact while getting ambushed. The nice part about that was, each of those options had specific tasks to execute. We had practiced enough that we knew exactly what to do. For the most part, it was second nature. Muscle memory. We just did it without thinking. We identified the situation, executed the necessary tasks, then conducted our after-action review. Then we moved on. No sweat.

Today, was not that kind of ambush. Today, the ambush was executed flawlessly by the enemy. Today, the only thing left to do was begin the lengthy process of picking up the pieces.

It’s been a little over five years since Christina got her wings. I don’t feel like I actively grieve her so much anymore. Instead, I try to use what I’ve learned over the last five years to help others as they walk through their own valley. This has taken several forms, but the more visible form has been teaching a class called GriefShare. I’ve done it for several years now and have seen it help many people. If you’re currently grieving, I highly recommend the program. It’s not like any program I’ve ever tried, and I don’t like “group stuff.” You can find a group at www.griefshare.org

Well, these last few months have been quite the roller coaster ride. My favorite ride being the park bench, you can imagine how this has worn on me. So much has been happening and so much has not been happening (at least not how I normally would like it to happen). It’s really taken its toll. I didn’t realize just how much until today, when grief ambushed me.

When I moved to Colorado (and to a new church), I decided that I would sit through the 13-week program again as a participant, before jumping back into a leadership role. It’s been great to see the unique way the program has been facilitated and I really like the change from what I’m used to.

As I sit in the GriefShare class, I naturally look around at the others in the room. Each one in a different place with their grief. There are a few couples in the room, all of whom had one thing in common. They were touching each other. Holding hands. Arms around each other. A hand on a knee. At one point, we even talked about the power of touch. It was then that I realized what was happening. But it was already too late. There was no “react to contact” maneuver that would overcome this ambush.

All the memories started to flood back as if a dam that had burst. I realized what these last few months had been missing. Her touch. Her encouraging words. The light in her eyes when something good happened. Her arms on my shoulders, as she gazed into my eyes and told me everything would be alright, when something didn’t go the way we’d hoped. All those little things she did to make sure that I was in peak fighting condition for whatever life wanted to throw at us. I miss them. I miss her.

I sat there quietly as the attack continued. Praying for the time to end or for something to come up that would force me to leave. The weight of the grief pushing down on me like a full-grown man on my shoulders. I don’t think I could have pushed myself up if I tried. The meeting seems to drag. I do my best to participate where I can. But I’m really, not feeling it tonight. My daughter texts me to let me know that the youth group has let out. I saw this as my opportunity and after the next break I politely excused myself. I met my kids in the lobby of the church and we quickly walked to the car.

It was still early and we hadn’t had dinner. We all went back and forth about where to eat before finally settling on a local diner. The food is decent and the price is right, so I wasn’t complaining. We talked about school and getting into a more structured schedule. All the while I just wanted to go home and get to bed. Knowing, of course, it wouldn’t happen. The kids still had homework to do and I likely wouldn’t go to sleep even if I could (but that’s a whole other story).

Grief is not a stranger for me. I’ve seen it before. I feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on it. But then a day like today happens, and I realize that while I’ve been studying the tactics that grief uses on me, grief has also been studying my “react to contact” drills. Today, it knew the plays I had ready, and defeated them one by one.  Today, I was forced to retreat. Today, grief won the battle. But today, is not the end. I will regroup and consult higher authority. My troops and I will rest up, and tomorrow, I will regain the ground that was lost.I Am The Storm

“Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.” (Psalm 16:1)

If you’ve gone through the process of grief, then you’ve likely experienced an ambush before. How have you dealt with them in the past? What was the trigger? How do you prep yourself for a future ambush?  Feel free to share your experience. Your story may just help someone else.

Surreal

Welcome Sign

July 8, 2017. It was a rushed morning. Well, it felt that way to me anyway. There were still a few things that needed to be done at the house. I still had to finish packing the car. I was up late the previous night and had decided to sleep in a little longer than I had originally planned. Of course, I had also built in a bit of flex time, so it wasn’t like I was really “behind.” But it still felt rushed.

As I walked through the now empty house, the emotions started to build. It was only six years prior that Christina and I were picking out fixtures and cabinets for our new home. Now here I was moving out of it, with the hopes that it would sell soon. So many memories tied to this home. Was it really happening? My heart skipped a beat and I could feel the lump welling up in my throat. Yes. It was really happening.

Surreal.

9am. It was time. The car was packed and there was nothing left for me to do. We stood there in the drive way with Christina’s parents. By this time, we had all already shed so many tears as we all came to the same realization. Yes, this was really happening. We lingered for a few minutes before saying our final “goodbyes.” Then the kids and I piled into the car.

I find it difficult to describe the feeling as I pulled out of my driveway for the last time. “The last time.” There’s a lot of weight in that thought. I could almost feel the heaviness sitting on my shoulders. We had said “yes” to God and were beginning our five-day drive to Colorado Springs. We were leaving our home, everything that was familiar to us, and the people that had been our support system for the last five years. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw my in-laws standing in my driveway watching us drive away. They were crying; so were the kids. My own eyes blurred and burned from the heat of the tears welling up in them. The drive out of the neighborhood felt a bit longer today, like it was going by in slow motion. It was weird.

Surreal.

Kids at Grave9:25am. We stopped by the cemetery. It just didn’t feel right leaving Orlando without checking in on Christina’s grave. I didn’t feel a need to say “goodbye” again. Truth be told, it was probably the first time I had been to see the grave in many months. But it just didn’t feel right leaving without stopping by, just for a few minutes. The kids and I stood by her grave discussing our trip: the excitement; the anticipation; the heartache; the realization that we didn’t know when we would stand here again.

We finally got on the road at 9:30am, an hour and a half after I had originally wanted. Finally, we were on our way into the unknown. We knew our destination. We knew our stops along the way. We knew where we would stay for the next 10 days. After that, everything was a mystery. Yes, I was a little bit nervous. But deep down, I knew that God was in control and that everything would work out. I just didn’t know how.

It’s now been 52 days since we left Orlando. So much has happened in a short amount of time. What has arguably been the coolest thing that happened was how we came to be at our new apartment. I swear we looked at every apartment complex in Colorado Springs. We only found one that had a three-bedroom apartment available for us to move into. On the same day that our hotel reservation ended. Which also happened to be the same day that the moving company told me they would be dropping off our furniture. God? Was that You? Hmmm.

Moving Truck

The kids and I have been having so many adventures. Between unpacking and getting our apartment set up and checking out our new surroundings, we’ve been quite busy.

 

 

view-from-apartment.jpg

Colorado is a beautiful state and we’re right smack dab in the middle of it. Our apartment complex feels more like a resort. We have a view of the mountains from our balcony.

 

GOTG

 

We’ve found a favorite outdoors spot in Garden of the Gods. Bonus! It’s free!

 

 

View from Pikes Peak

 

We’ve been to the top of the highest peak in Colorado Springs (Pikes Peak, 14,150 feet above sea level).

 

 

 

Royal Gorge

 

We’ve seen the highest suspension bridge in the US. Truth be told, I feel like we’ve been on an extended vacation.

 

 

It’s still weird.  Colorado doesn’t really feel like home yet. I find myself lying in bed in the morning, looking out my bedroom window at Pikes Peak asking myself “did we really do this?” Even though the answer is obvious, it’s still a bit unbelievable. Like some kind of “energizer bunny” coaster ride, it just “keeps going.” Every time I turn around I see God working: making sure that we are provided for, making sure that I don’t get in my own way (as I often do). It’s like the stories you hear from people like Billy Graham, telling us how God did something or made something happen that was unmistakably Him. There’s no other way to explain it. Yet, here I am living my own story of Gods miraculous care.

Surreal.

I don’t want to discount all the other ways that God has taken care of me and my family through the years. The great part about living for God is the ability to look back and see His handiwork all over my life. He has guided me through life, whether it be the good times or bad, in everything leading up to this moment, this journey, this place. He always prepares me for what He has next, which, at this point in time, only He knows. I’m okay with that. Frankly, I’m still too busy admiring His canvas here in Colorado to be concerned about what’s going to happen next.

Surreal.

Moving!

family-favorite.jpgSo, we’re moving. In six days. And there’s still a lot to do. Which is crazy to me because I feel like I’ve been going non-stop for the last few months. With all that’s been going on I find it amazing that I’ve even had time to think! It’s exhausting. I really can’t remember the last time I was this tired. Even as I write this, I’m debating as to whether I should keep writing or shut down and go to bed.

It’s an exciting time though. I can’t think of a time when God has been so active and vocal in my life. Sure, He’s been there. We talk all the time. And there are times when I hear Him and see His subtle workings in the day to day activities that make up my hectic life. But this is different. It’s no longer subtle. It’s more of an “in your face” kind of thing. It’s really cool, actually. Even if a bit scary at the same time.

The whole idea of moving started over a year ago. There has been quite a bit going on as God has prepared us for this move. But the real fun has only been in the last three months. See, for the year following the call to move, I’ve been thinking we would be staying in the Central Florida general area. But three months ago, He said “I want you in Colorado Springs.” Uh. Okay. Really?

I freely admit that I had some initial misgivings about this. First and foremost, I don’t like the cold. And while I do love Colorado. I don’t like the cold. Did I mention that I don’t like the cold? Just making sure. I don’t want anyone thinking I like the cold. Because, I don’t. It’s also 2,000 miles away from, anything, really. That’s a long way away.

Okay, all kidding aside. While I am excited about the idea of moving across the country. I found myself doing a lot of soul searching. This is a big deal! I have friends and family here. I have a job that is just starting to take off. I’m involved in so many things. I have a network of people at my fingertips. My daughter was just accepted to the community college for their dual enrollment program. “And you want me to drop everything and move 2,000 miles away? Really?” The answer was a resounding “yes!”

So, yeah. We’re moving. In six days. Because God said He wants us in Colorado. It’s exciting and terrifying all at the same time.

It’s been a crazy three months. I feel like I’ve been in fast-forward the entire time. So much to do. So, little time. I feel like I need to remind myself to breathe sometimes. And with all that’s been going on, I’ve not really had the opportunity feel it. I’ve been so focused on getting ready to go, that I haven’t had time to feel the feelings that go along with leaving friends and family. Until tonight.

Tonight, a friend of mine put together a small gathering of friends and family. A time to stop by and say goodbye. To fellowship one last time before we started our journey on the next adventure that God has waiting for us.

Dozens of invites were sent out. Those who couldn’t come in person sent their well wishes via text and phone. Those who did come brought food and drink to share. Everyone there played key roles in my life over the last five plus years. The journey of healing after such a loss hasn’t been an easy one. But, as He always does, God puts just the right people in your life to help you through the valleys. And these people were all assembled in this one place. Either in person or in spirit.

It was a wonderful time of fellowship. We reminisced about our different paths and how they intersected. Talked about the future and what God has in store for us. We laughed. I cried (quietly). And then there was quiet.

It was the same quiet I felt five years ago. The quiet that comes when you sit and realize that life as you know it has changed. Forever. The life that you were so familiar with is no more. The pendulum has reached its apex and has hit that brief moment where it’s not moving any direction. That split second where it stops completely before moving in a different direction. That moment of suspense that feels like it will last forever.

It’s in this moment that I begin to think about the gravity of the situation I have found myself in. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. Where I’m surrounded by people who care about me and value me as their friend. Away from a house I’ve called home for six years. Away from the family that has supported me through the trials of those six years. Away from the resting place of my beloved wife. Away from everything that I know, to a place where I don’t know, anyone. Don’t have a place to live or work. 2,000 miles away from anything and everything that’s familiar to me.

As I sit here allowing myself to feel, I’m reminded that while I’m leaving my comfort zone. I’m not going alone. In fact, I was reminded just this morning by a wonderful friend of mine that “the Lord, He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8). So, while I’m sad to be leaving my friends. I’m encouraged that God is going with me. He won’t leave me. I am following Him “to the place He has shown me” on the prayers of those I leave behind.

Suddenly, the heavy heart that seems to have pinned me to my couch lightens a bit. The sadness of leaving friends behind is replaced with the wonderful memories I take with me (and the knowledge that I have all their phone numbers and there’s no way they’re getting rid of me that easy). I’m feeling the excitement return as the pendulum finally starts to move in a new direction. It’s a new adventure. A new beginning. A fresh start. The next chapter has arrived. And I’m ready to start writing it.

Peace out Florida! Colorado, here we come!

Happy Anniversary!

FullSizeRender 7“Their lives have been blessed by their love for each other and by their faith in the Lord. Christina Marie Nichols and Stephen James Cilento together with their parents invite you to witness the vows that will join them as one on Friday, the thirtieth of April nineteen hundred and ninety-nine at half past seven in the evening. Baltimore First Church of the Nazarene 2750 Rogers Avenue Ellicott City, Maryland.”

My dearest Christina. It’s been eighteen years since we stood at the front of the sanctuary of Baltimore First Church of the Nazarene and pledged out lives to each other. It’s hard to believe that you’ve been gone for five of them.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. As I sit here and peruse our wedding album, I’m overwhelmed with memories. I smiled as I saw the pictures of our rehearsal. I was wearing my cowboy boots. I chuckle now because I know how much you disliked them. You’re probably shaking your head and rolling your eyes now because, since you’ve been gone, I wear them all the time. I sang “You are my sunshine” as we were supposed to be leaving for dinner. You smiled and rolled your eyes. The world saw “ugh, really?” But I saw “I love you.”

FullSizeRenderWe went to Old Country Buffet for our rehearsal dinner. We used to go there with friends every Sunday after church. I cringe now and wonder “why did we do that?” I remember it being more of a hassle than a good time. But we managed to salvage the evening and enjoy ourselves.

FullSizeRender 2I was a nervous wreck on the day of our wedding. I had gotten a phone call that morning from the limousine company saying they wouldn’t be able to pick us up afterwards. I had to call in a favor to make sure we had transportation to our hotel.

When I got to the church, I had no idea what was supposed to be happening. Didn’t know which room I would be using to change. I think I ran around the church three or four times looking for someone who knew what was going on. Never did find anyone, so I just picked a room and gathered my wedding party there. My Mom arrived shortly after I changed and made sure she was there to put my boutonniere on my lapel.

FullSizeRender 3So many memories from that day. None of which compared to the moment the doors opened in the sanctuary and I saw you standing there with your Dad. You were so beautiful. My heart stopped and I couldn’t breathe. It was happening. We were about to say, “I do.”

FullSizeRender 8As you walked down the aisle I could feel my heart beating faster and faster. I couldn’t take my eyes off you. I was the luckiest man in the world.  We kept our eyes locked on each other. You had a huge smile on your face. I’m sure I did too. We had several conversations during the ceremony. I still wonder if anyone saw us talking to each other. I tried to put your ring on the wrong hand. Thought the pastor forgot to give me permission to “kiss the bride.” The whole time you kept reassuring me and smiling at me. Telling me to stop fussing. Sigh. I remember it all like it was yesterday.

On that day, I fully expected to be spending this anniversary next to you. But here I sit, eighteen years later. Alone in our living room. Tears running down my face. Remembering what it was like to have you next to me. To hold your hand. To feel your body leaning into mine. Your eyes gazing at me. I would likely be stealing a kiss at this very moment. I miss you so much Christina. I miss being, “us.”

FullSizeRender 4The kids and I will do something to celebrate. But it will never be the same without you here. Enjoy our day in heaven. Don’t worry about me. The kids will work their magic and cheer me up. I’ll be greeted with hugs in the morning, and we’ll do as we always do. Smile, blow you a kiss, and keep moving forward. Give Jesus a hug for me, and I’ll give the kids a hug for you. I love you Christina. And knowing what I know now, I would still have said “I do” eighteen years ago. Happy Anniversary.

Hopelessly Romantic

castle-beckett

I’m a hopeless romantic. I admit it. Now, before you go asking for my man card, check yourself. Chances are, so are you. I think most men are romantics, Lovers as well as fighters. I mean, really. All anybody really wants is to be loved and accepted, right? As guys, we just need the right woman to bring it out in us.

I had this once. I was smitten from the moment I first saw her. Sure, I played the game at first. But I was hooked. The gentleman in me emerged. She didn’t want for anything. Never paid for a meal. Always had flowers. Teddy bears galore. You name it. I never let an opportunity to show my love for her pass me by. Well, I tried not to anyway. After all, I’m still human. As much as I would love to make you think I was the perfect husband, I can’t. I have my faults. But I like to think I was perfect for her.

I sometimes feel like I take this whole “hopeless romantic” thing too far, though. For example, I was sitting on my couch the other day watching one of our favorite television shows–Castle. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a romantic crime drama where a playboy crime writer (Richard Castle) shadows one of New York’s finest homicide detectives (Kate Beckett) to gather inspiration for his next novel. One thing leads to another and yes, you guessed it, they fall in love.

I don’t want to ruin it for you, but there comes a point in the series when Beckett decides that she and Castle need to take a break. Castle, being the charismatic playboy that he is, won’t take no for an answer and decides he’s going to win her back, whatever it takes.

This particular episode opens with Kate fixing herself a fancy cup of coffee on the cappuccino machine that Castle bought for the squad. Because you know, a simple coffee pot just won’t do. Kate takes a sip of the coffee, scrunches her face and shudders. I guess she didn’t do such a great job of making her coffee. But, what’s she to do. Can’t really let the coffee go to waste now, can we? Anyway, as the episode progresses, a dead body turns up. Obviously a murder. Castle finds a way to get himself involved with the investigation so that he can be close to Beckett. She grows increasingly frustrated with his antics, even if slightly amused at the idea of his trying to win her back. One thing leads to another. They case is solved. The unlikely duo has once again saved the day. So what better way to celebrate than with a cup of coffee, made by Castle this time?

The scene opens with Castle leaning against a desk holding two cups of what appear to be perfectly made cappuccinos. Kate exits the captain’s office and walks toward Castle, who hands her a cup of coffee. Kate takes the coffee with a smile. She lifts the coffee to her lips. Her eyes close as she inhales the aroma. The look on her face softens, and a slight smile creeps across her face. She takes a sip.

“You always make it so much better,” she says. “Even though you taught me how to make it. I can never quite get it right.”

Castle replies, “That’s because I didn’t teach you everything. I left out one ingredient.”

“Really? Which ingredient was that?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Why not?”

“Because then what would you need me for?”

Kate gets “the look.” You know the one, right? That look that the girls get when someone says something sweet, and they go “Aaawwwww! That was so sweet!” Yeah, you know the look. She smiles at Castle, and says, “Then don’t tell me.”

Okay. So at this point I have to tell you that I was screaming at my television, “Kiss him Kate!! You know you want to!” But she didn’t. Instead, she just stood there looking at him. The look on her face was that of longing. You could tell she wanted to grab him and hold him. The camera panned to Castle. He could see it to. But he was determined to let her make the first move. He wanted to win her back. But at the same time, had to respect the space she has asked for. The camera panned to Kate again. I was going crazy!! “Oh my gosh, what is wrong with you! You know you want him!” She did. She wanted to hold him so bad. But she couldn’t.

Maybe that’s why this particular scene hit so close to home? You could see it in her eyes, in the look on her face. She wanted to hold him, to feel his arms around her, holding her close to him. She wanted to feel his heart beat against her chest, to feel her arms around him. To feel as one.

See, I told you I was taking the whole “hopeless romantic” thing too far. You’re probably thinking, “Good grief Steve, you got all that from a scene in a television show?” Yeah, I did. See, I can relate to how Kate was feeling. I feel it all the time. The desire to wrap my arms around Christina. To hold her close to me, to listen to the sound of her breathing. to feel the beat of her heart again. It’s agony to want something so bad, knowing you can’t have it.

Maybe I was projecting my feelings there a little bit. I don’t know. What I do know is I wanted to strangle Kate just then. She never did go to Castle. I imagine in the story (had the camera not faded to black), they both ended up going their separate ways. Maybe there was a better time and place for the embrace. I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to wait for the next episode. Except, the show is on reruns now, so who knows when that will be. Ugh! Maybe I should just go buy the series on DVD? Or stop watching romantic stuff all together? No, that won’t do. I enjoy it too much. Even when it hurts, it’s a good hurt, because it allows me to remember. I remember what it was like to have such a good thing. I remember Christina and my own little romance story. That can’t possibly be a bad thing.

So what’s the lesson? The moral to the story? I guess it would have to be: Don’t wait. If you feel something, act on it. If you love someone, tell them. If you were wrong, say you’re sorry. If someone needs something, provide it for them. And if you find yourself standing in front of your spouse or significant other, longing to hold them in your arms, to feel them close to you, do it. Don’t wait. Take them in your arms. Hold them close. Close your eyes and savor the moment. Make a mental note of how they feel. What they smell like. Can you hear their heartbeat? Their breathing? Can you trace the contour of their shoulder blades? Feel the vertebra in their back? Are they holding you as tightly as you’re holding them? Can you tell where you end, and they begin? Do you feel – as one?

You’ll never regret taking that opportunity. You’ll always regret not taking it. Especially if you find yourself in a position where you’ll never have the opportunity again.

 

Politics

politicsI’ll apologize for the rant now. I wasn’t going to do it. I promise. It’s not my usual topic to write about. And I’m sure to lose a friend or two over my comments. But I just can’t stand it anymore. I’m tired. Tired of seeing all the insults. Tired of the violence. Tired of seeing friends pitted against each other because they have a difference of opinion. I mean, come on! Since when was it wrong to have a difference of opinion? Isn’t that part of what makes us great? We’re all different? Can you imagine how dull life would be if we all thought alike? We’d never have anything to talk about because we’d always agree with each other and know exactly what the other was thinking. How fun would that be?

Aside from all that, the negativity of it all is just incredibly draining. I don’t know about you, but I’m always exhausted after watching a debate, reading about something political, or even perusing my social media threads. How much better would it be if politics was all about the actual issues and making things better? Rather than seeing who could dig up what about who?

So, I’m not going to tell anyone who to vote for. I’m not going to try to sway you one way or the other. In fact, I’m not even going to talk about any one particular candidate. That’s not for me to decide. That decision is totally on you. And you know what? Your vote doesn’t tell me anything more about you than this – you have an opinion and you voiced it. Thank you.

Okay. First things first. When you go to the voting station, or open your “vote-by-mail” packet, you’re going to see a bunch of headings. The first choice will be for “President and Vice President.” That’s what it will say. What it will not say is “Pastor and Vice Pastor.” This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t worry about the issues. It just means that we shouldn’t expect the candidates to fall in line with our doctrinal desires. We aren’t voting for someone to preach for us. We’re voting for someone to lead the country for the next four years. Would it be nice if he/she believed the way we did? Of course. But that is not a prerequisite. Or even a possibility. Because we all think different.

Something else to keep in mind. We all have a past. Everyone. Nobody is exempt. So let me ask you this. Have you ever done anything, that today, you wish you hadn’t done? Have you ever said something, that today, you wish you hadn’t said? Have you ever changed your mind on a subject? Really? Then why are we chastising people for having done the same thing! Why are we digging up all the dirty laundry and showing it to the world? I get that it “goes to their character.” Sort of. Does your past speak for what your character is today? Has your character gotten better over the years? Maybe because of some of those things that you wish you hadn’t done or said? Just curious. No need to answer out loud. Just ask yourself what you motive is when you share that hateful meme on Facebook with an “LOL” next to it. Or Tweet an embarrassing quote, that quite possibly was something said in the heat of the moment, or taken completely out of context. Ask yourself what good it will do. Is it building someone up? Or tearing someone down? Then remember what God said in Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” I wonder how different the country (or even the world for that matter) would be if we all just followed this one little rule?

I’m curious really. A lot of what we see and hear now is how we all want a new candidate. We don’t want to vote for any of the candidates on the ballot. I’m guilty of this myself. Well ask yourself this – seeing what happens to those who put themselves out there for the office, would you run? Is there anything in your past that might come up during the campaign? I wonder how many more qualified candidates are out there who don’t run for that reason? I’ve got to be honest. I wouldn’t. Who needs that headache?

So what are we to do? Compliment them? Why not? What would it hurt? In the last debate, the last question was “tell us something you admire about the other candidate.” Wow! What a concept? You mean we can actually have a difference of opinion, and still think positive of someone? Amazing actually. What if we started the debate and ended the debate with that question? That would be cool. But I understand in this day and age, not likely. So what do we do?

Pray. First Timothy 2:1&2 say’s “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Take a minute. Sit back in your chair, and imagine a country where everyone prayed for the President. WOW! Imagine it! How awesome would that be? So pray! Pray hard! And without ceasing!

Understand that God already knows who will win. He has this whole election under control. And if you belong to Him, you don’t have to worry! We already know how this is going to end anyway. So don’t worry about it. Matthew 6:24 tells us “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own.” Gods got this. And He’s working it for His will, not ours.

God uses imperfect people all the time. And I won’t disagree that our candidates are imperfect. But then, so am I. So are you. And so is everyone else. Read Acts 9:1-19. Even while Saul was plotting murderous acts against Gods people, God was planning to use him to build the kingdom, rather than tear it down. That alone, gives me great peace.

Vote. If you are a citizen of this great country, it’s not just your right. It’s your responsibility. But don’t vote because you just can’t bear the thought of one over the other. Don’t vote because one person has a more colorful past than the other (remember, how colorful a past is, is a matter of opinion also). Vote based on the issues. Vote for the candidate that will do what’s right for the country. And remember. There’s only one person who has ultimate power. And He’s already on the throne.

Be blessed.