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

Advertisements

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.”

 

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.

 

The “Mom Switch”

Natural Bridge

Let me start this by saying, I’m a guy. It is what it is. It’s how God made me. I like manly things. It’s easy for me to be rough. I wrestle with the kids, and win – most of the time. If you come to me with a problem, my instinct is to try to fix it. I’m better at eating than I am at cooking. Cleaning doesn’t come naturally to me, and when my daughter mentions the word “boys” I instinctively reach for my shotgun. I am who I am. It’s how God made me.

Because I’m a guy, there are certain things that seem to come natural to me. For example, I’ve been told that I’m a pretty good Dad. I’m Not bragging. It’s just what I’ve been told. Conversely, there are certain things that do not come natural to me. Like, for example, being a mom. That’s why God gave me a wife – even if just for a little while.

My wife was my perfect match. She was awesome at everything I wasn’t, and if she couldn’t do it then I probably could. This “yin & yang” relationship applied to most everything. Especially parenting. She was a great mom, all the way up to the day she passed. She took her last breath while holding the kids hands.

My wife had an amazing amount of patience with the kids. She loved them, and was able to connect with them on a completely different level than I. Whether it was helping them with homework, comforting them when they got hurt or trying to imagine “the perfect wedding,” she was always there, ready to make them feel special. I, on the other hand, was known by all as “the Drill Sergeant.” You can probably imagine how I got that nickname, and the difference between my wife’s relationship with the children and mine.

I find it amazing how God plans things. He brought my wife and I together for a reason. We were a perfect fit. We went together like peas & carrots. She was the chocolate in my vanilla, the sugar in my coffee. She made everything – better.

Mark 10:6-8 (NIV) states “But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

It all makes sense, especially when you get to look at it retrospectively. I have the benefit of having experienced what it’s like when “the two become one flesh.” It just works. There are certain traits that men and women have that the other does not. Women are just naturally more nurturing than men. That’s why when we get hurt, we naturally want Mom. On the other hand, men were built more for battling and protecting. It’s what we’re good at and requires a thicker, less sensitive side. We somehow aren’t bothered when the kids start crying after they fall down. Our natural response is to say something to the effect of “suck it up and drive on”, while Mom bends over to kiss the booboo and “make them feel better” – ugh, gag me please!

So if we are so much better together, then what are we supposed to do when we suddenly find ourselves without our “other half.” Or, in my case, my “better half.”

Study after study has shown that when a person loses the use of one of their senses (vision, hearing, etc.), the other senses become enhanced to pick up where the other can no longer contribute. For example, if someone loses their vision, then typically their hearing becomes enhanced. It’s a body’s natural response to the loss of the other sense.

I would argue that the same applies when we lose our “other half”. When Dad now has to play the part of Mom, or vice versa. It doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it takes a lot of practice, prayer and patience. But eventually, we develop that sense. The ability to take a step back and ask ourselves “what does the situation need at this moment? A mom? Or a dad?” And in my case, it lets me know when to throw – the “Mom Switch.”

Being a Mom is totally different from being a Dad. It’s not easy as a Dad trying to “play Mom.” For starters, there’s no instruction manual. I looked. There really isn’t one. So the best I could do was try to remember what my wife would have done in circumstances needing a Mom rather than a Dad. In these times, I usually ask myself “what would she have done” and then try to picture her sitting there doing what she did best: being a Mom. Then, I throw the Mom switch and go to work.

There are several circumstances where I find myself playing mom. My kids tell me that after four years of practice, I’ve gotten a lot better at it. I on the other hand, still feel inadequate as a mom, and much more comfortable in my role as a Dad. That being said, I do feel that I’ve won a few victories in my role as “Mr. Mom.”

When my wife was alive, we did a great job of tag teaming when it came to Alexys and the topic of boys. She would sit down and talk about how great it is to be in love and how wonderful the wedding day would be. They would look at wedding dresses and get all gushy and weepy. It was sickening to watch;but as long as they didn’t say anything about me sitting there with a shotgun in my lap, I was okay with it.

So, how do I tackle this situation now as a dad playing mom? Well, I can assure you that I haven’t discussed a wedding day or dress. We haven’t gushed or gotten weepy over anyone who just happened to be “the cutest guy ever!”

What I was able to do was put the shotgun away and force myself to come to the understanding that my little girl won’t be little forever. One day (later rather than sooner) she will find a guy that she wants to “go out” with. When this happens, she’s going to tell someone who will likely give her advice. I wanted that person to be me. So I had to throw the Mom switch, even if only halfway. And that meant making myself available for “boy talk.” We do this often, fortunately. I don’t like to brag about much, but I think most would agree that a daughter talking to her Father about boys is a pretty big win.

Just to be fair, I’m still a dad. I can be quite insensitive at times. Not intentionally of course. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just a little slow to throw the Mom Switch sometimes. That’s all. I mean, the fact that I take pleasure in watching Andrew squirm for a couple seconds before blowing on the scraped up knee I just poured peroxide on doesn’t make me a bad person. Does it?

Okay, all kidding aside. This is a real obstacle. My wife was quite good at recognizing the difference between crocodile tears and real tears. She had a sense about her that would tell her when the kids needed comforting as apposed to a lesson in tough love. It’s this part that I seem to have the hardest time with. When the tears start flowing, I instinctively think, “Really? Why are you crying?” It’s in times like this that I have to take that step back and decide if they need dad? Or a mom? Then decide if it’s time to throw the Mom Switch, or sit back and enjoy the show.

God gave us all kinds of senses. Those senses all have a purpose. They’re all responsible for their own things. So, too, He made men & women, moms and dads,both with their own strengths. Nobody ever said that life was going to be peaches and cream. There’s no expectation of perfection or trouble-free living. It’s life. Things happen. The questions is, what do we do when problems find us? Do we curl up in a fetal position and wallow in self pity? Or throw the Mom switch and get to work?

I choose to throw the Mom Switch and get to work.

God In The Little Things

We’ve all heard the quotes — “our God is a big God” – “There isn’t anything too big for God” – “God can handle this”. Often, it’s during a period in our lives when we are facing what seems to us to be insurmountable odds. An illness. Financial troubles. Divorce. Death. The message is usually delivered in an attempt to make us feel better about the particular problem we are going through.

Let me just say, I love the fact that God is there for me when I face the big problems. But what about the day-to-day things — you know, the little things, those “troubles” that are more of an annoyance than anything else? Are those things too little to bother our big God for”? Shouldn’t we just try to work it out ourselves?

As I was thinking about this, I asked myself what God would say.

Psalm 46:1 says “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (NIV) I don’t know about you, but that one seems pretty self-explanatory. But let’s make it a little more personal. God is MY refuge and MY strength. MINE! So cool! He is an ever-present help. So, I think that means He’s ALWAYS THERE! As in, He never leaves. He’s an ever-present help, in MY trouble. Now, I read that as “trouble”. Not “big trouble”. Just, trouble. Doesn’t matter if it’s big, small or somewhere in the middle. And as cool as that is, it’s not even the best part.

Psalm 55:22 says “Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken”. So, not only is He my refuge, strength and ever-present help in time of need. But now He’s commanding me to “cast my cares on the Lord”. Not the big ones. Not the small. But all of them! Is this not the coolest thing? I can take all of my cares, concerns, troubles, worries etc. to God! Does anyone else feel like their life is going to be a lot better from this moment on?

Okay, so by now you’re probably wondering, “Dude, what did you put in your cereal this morning”? Nothing. I had eggs, bacon and pumpkin spice pancakes. But that’s beside the point. I’m excited because I had the opportunity to test this last week.

My beautiful baby girl turned fifteen recently. It’s scary actually, I still remember the day she was born. She was so tiny. It’s hard to believe she’s now a young lady.

Well, we had been planning her day for months now. I would take her to get her drivers permit, and then head over to the church parking lot for some wheel time. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go as planned. It was a crazy, troublesome morning.

The plan was to get up at seven, get ready to go, then take the 50 question exam online so that we could then head over to the DMV to get the permit. Everything went like clockwork, right up to the start of the exam. Alexys had been taking practice exams that “mimicked the actual exam”. Well, they didn’t. Alexys started to get anxious and was stressing a bit. I calmed her down, and at question 46 the exam stopped and told her she had passed. What followed proved to be decidedly inconvenient – a message stating that it would take up to 24 hours for the exam results to post to the state system. And there went our plans for the day’s activities.

Alexys sighed and hung her head. The look on her face said it all. She was disappointed. In an attempt to make her feel better, I said “lets make a call and see if it’s really 24 hours.”

I called the DMV and asked the very pleasant lady who answered the phone “my daughter just finished her 50 question test and we received a message that it would take up to 24 hrs for the results to post. Is this conservative? Or generous?”

She sighed and said “I really wish they would change that. It’s more like 48 hours.”

“Really? What are the chances that it would be uploaded sooner?”

“Sir, you really need to wait till Monday.”

“Hmm. Well. That’s quite inconvenient.”

“I’m sorry sir.”

“It’s not your fault. Thank you, and have a great day.”

I hung up the phone, looked at Alexys and said “lets go get breakfast and revisit this on a full stomach”.

We went to Cracker Barrel, a family favorite for breakfast. We were seated, and we placed our order. It was time to give her the gift I had gotten for her.

When Alexys was born, I bought Christina a Sapphire ring (September birth stone). Recently, I had the Sapphire ring sized for Alexys. I gave it to her not just as a gift, but as a reminder that she should seek God first, in all of her relationships. She was thrilled and couldn’t seem to keep from smiling.

We made small talk while we enjoyed pumpkin spice pancakes until Alexys got quiet. I asked her “what’s wrong?”

“Do you think we, really have to wait till Friday to get my permit?”

“I don’t know Kiddo.”

“Do you think we could try?”

I could tell it was bothering her, so I decided then and there that we would at least try. But I really wanted to stack the odds in our favor. So I looked up to heaven, and started talking to God.

“God, thank you for Alexys. Thank you for allowing us to spend today together. God, you know how long we have been planning this day. You know how excited we are, and You know how important it is to Alexys. God, I ask that if it be your will, please expedite Alexys test results to the front and put them into the state’s system so that she can get her license today. In Your name, Amen.”

I smiled at Alexys and said “we are going to walk in faith all day believing that God will come through for us.”

She smiled and said “okay.”

We had to get a consent form notarized, so we drove to a bank where we spoke with a very friendly banker. We told her what we were doing and she was excited to help. About halfway through the process she looked up from her ledger and asked “are you a member of the bank?”

“No, but I was told I didn’t have to be.

“By who?”

“The teller”.

“Oh, well, they don’t know anything. We aren’t supposed to do this for non-members, but I’m going to go ahead and do this for you anyway.”

She then looked at Alexys, gave her a wink, and continued documenting the information we needed.

We finished at the bank and gathered the rest of the documents we needed for the DMV. Alexys was hungry, so we stopped for a snack before heading to the DMV.

We arrived at the Winter Garden branch around 1:30pm. When we got there we were advised that the line to get a license had already closed due to the number of people that were already there. I asked if she would be able to check any of the other branches for me. She smiled, handed me a slip of paper, and said “No sir, but feel free to check them yourself”.

I smiled, said “thank you”, and we took a seat while I checked with each of the other branches. They were all closed, except for one. Downtown Orlando had a few spots remaining.

I put myself in line from the Winter Garden branch, and then Alexys and I took a nice leisurely drive downtown. Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite “leisurely”. But we got there safely, and with time to spare.

We waited about 45 minutes, and then our name was called. We approached the clerk and told her what we were there for. She asked “has Alexys had taken the 50 question test?”

I said “yes.”

“Has she waited 24 hours?”

“No.”

She said “I’m sorry, but it takes at least 24 hours to update the system.”

I smiled and said “the message we received said it would take up to 24 hours, which means it might take less and we wanted to give it a shot.”

She sighed and said “okay”.

She started the process and began asking Alexys questions. Alexys looked at me for a couple of them and I, of course, answered for her. The clerk smiled and said “Sir, since it’s her license, I need her to answer.”

I laughed, looked at Alexys and said, “It’s all you Kiddo”. She laughed and I did my best to remain silent. While the clerk was entering information, Alexys and I chatted about our prayer from earlier and we both agreed that God would come through for us. The clerk smiled and continued entering information.

When it came to the point of checking the system for Alexys’ test results, the clerk looked at us with a smile and said “Okay, here we go.”

We smiled and waited with anticipation. The clerk made a few key strokes and then waited for what seemed like an eternity. Then she gave a bit of a surprised look and said “Oh! They’re there!”

Alexys smiled and said “yay!” as I once again looked to heaven and gave Jesus two thumbs up.

Alexys left the DMV, license in hand. I took the obligatory picture of Alexys with her license. We talked all the way home about when and where she would be able to drive. She’s been driving almost everywhere since then, and loving almost every bit of it.

Okay. Yes. It’s a little thing. In the grand scheme of things, a driver’s permit is not a really big deal. But it doesn’t have to be.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It doesn’t say anything about big or little. He want’s to be in every part of our lives. Is this not cool? Are we not blessed to have a God who loves us this much? In the words of the Pointer Sisters “I’m so excited! And I just can’t hide it! I’m about to lose control and I think I like it!”.

God is great, all the time. All the time, God is great. Big things. Little things. Doesn’t matter. He is great in ALL things. Thank you Lord for all your blessings.

Hindsight

It’s a topic for small gatherings. For fun discussion. Something we talk about when we’re bored. It’s a question we all have probably asked, or been asked at some point in our life. “Knowing what you know now, if you could go back and change one thing or do one thing differently, what would it be?” It’s a pretty deep question actually—one that allows us to think about our past, and the decisions we’ve made, good, or bad (usually bad). It’s kind of fun to think about all the things we could have done–what the possible outcomes would have been, how life would be different now. Of course, then reality hits, we all laugh a bit, and then change the subject. Sound familiar?

I used to think this question was ridiculous. Because I can usually link a pretty valuable lesson that I learned from the decision in question. A lesson that shaped who I am today. But then something happened that changed my opinion. Not totally of course. But I found something that I would change if given the chance. I don’t want to call it a regret, but I would definitely do it differently, if I could.

It was the evening of August 4, 2012. It had been a long day–a very long day. Christina was in bed and there were about eight or ten people in the room chatting with her, including me. At one point, she sat up in bed and said, “I want some ice cream.” Everyone jumped up to get it. I think my mother was closest to the door and ultimately got it for her.

When she came back to the bedroom, she had a full bowl of Chrisina’s favorite–Chocolate/Vanilla twirl. Christina held the bowl and let the ice cream soften a bit. At one point our pastor looked at the ice cream and said “Wow, that ice cream looks really good.” Christina looked up at the pastor, squinted her eyes in a feigned glare and said, “You get your own bowl.” The room erupted in laughter and the slightest grin crept onto Christina’s face. In a time when we were all in agony over the prospect of losing her, she was still able to bring joy to everyone, and lighten the mood a little.

We all talked for a bit more, and then I called it a night. Christina was doing her best to remain strong for everyone that was there. But you could tell her strength was waning.

People were slowly starting to leave, and I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open. I knew Christina would soon be back to sleep, so I said “good night” to her, kissed her, and let myself succumb to the sleep that so desperately called to me.

That’s it. That’s the moment that, if given the chance, I would change. See, that was the last time I saw Christina awake. That was the last time I kissed her and got a reaction from her. It was the last time I got to converse with her. It was the last time I heard her sweet voice.

When I woke up the next morning, Christina was asleep. Her breathing pattern had changed. She was taking about 5 or 6 breaths a minute. I knew at this moment that she would never wake up again. And she never did. I laid there with her for the remainder of her life. At about 1:20 pm, while she was surrounded by family, wrapped in my arms, and holding each of our children’s hands, Christina took her last breath on this earth.

I tell people that I have no regrets. Christina and I had a lively marriage. We fought like cats and dogs. We disagreed on a lot of things. We hurt each other, said things we shouldn’t have said. We also had wonderful times. We took trips. We moved across the country. We have two beautiful children. We built a house together. But more than any of that, we loved each other unconditionally. No matter what happened, we both knew that we would be there for each other. Leaving never crossed our minds. We were best friends. I miss her dearly. Every day.

So what is it? What would I have done differently on that night? Well, if I had it to do over again, I would have fixed a pot of coffee, and stayed up all night talking with her. Listening to her. Looking at her. Holding her hand. Rubbing her feet. Whatever. Just being with her.

See, even when we are caring for someone who is on the brink of death, we find ourselves getting into a routine. That routine tends to give us blinders to the cold reality of our situation. I went to bed that night fully expecting to see Christina the next day, fully expecting to fix her breakfast, to help her get cleaned up, to give her a hug and a kiss good morning. I expected to have that next day with her. It was the routine.

I wonder how much our daily routine blinds us to the reality of life. How many of us went to bed tonight expecting to see our loved ones in the morning? How many of us leave for work in the morning expecting to see our loved ones when we get home? How many of us say mean and cruel things, expecting to have the chance to say we’re sorry? How many of us will one day say “I wish I had fixed a pot of coffee so that I could just be with her a little while longer”?

The bottom line is that we will all make mistakes. We will all do crazy things. And we’ll all have those times when we wish we could have done something different. It’s life. The question is, “What can I learn from those times to help make my life better”? Maybe that’s the question we should be asking in small gatherings. For fun discussion, or when we’re bored–or when we really want to know. Maybe?