This past weekend marked one year since my first post on this blog. At first I was writing every few days, now it seems I’m good if I get something every couple of weeks. It’s not that I don’t have stuff to write about, it’s just about finding the time – actually being disciplined to make the time to write. I think most bloggers would tell you the same thing, but my wife is actually pretty disciplined with her site – and she covers some pretty deep stuff, too.
If you’ve read my first post (or can tell by the name of my site), the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” means a lot to me. The lesson it carries is a powerful one, and even though I’ve seen it probably 50 times, I still get choked up watching as George Bailey’s eyes are opened in the end to what truly makes his life so wonderful. And since the movie does a lot of looking back over his life, I’ve been thinking back over all of the things that have happened in our lives since I started blogging last year. And of course, if George learned a lesson – I’ve got to see if I’ve learned some, too.
2012 honestly started off pretty quietly for us. As we came into the year I was working in the Provider Services department for UnitedHealthcare as a Resource Line agent taking escalated issue calls. Weekends we were traveling all over Central Florida selling merchandise for a friend who heads the NSA Girl’s Fastpitch Softball tournaments for the state. My routine became get out of work on Friday, go home and load the Trailblazer, and then head out to whatever city it was we’d spend the next two days in. I like to travel, so that wasn’t so bad. And getting to hang out with my wife and whichever of the boys came with us every weekend was a great perk as well. The flip side to traveling every weekend was that it took us out of church consistently – which was weird in that we’d been in full-time ministry for the last 20 years, but I can see where God used it in our lives. My identity for so long was wrapped up in what I did rather than who I am. I’m being reminded once again that He loves me not for what I do for Him, but simply because He calls me a son.
When February rolled around I was ready for some distraction – and it came in the form of the Broadway musical “Les Miserables”! Ever since catching the 10th anniversary performance on PBS several years back, I’ve been in love with this story and production. When I accidentally discovered the 25th anniversary performance now playing on PBS last fall, it rekindled that love – and it ignited a love for the story in a couple of my sons, especially Josiah (the one that drowned when he was 3, and who recently turned 18). So when one of the traveling companies of the production came to Tampa, I got the two of us tickets. OK, they were pretty much nose-bleeder seats, but we were there to experience it – and it was amazing! One of the great side-affects of this, now the whole family wants to see the movie version when it comes out on Christmas Day next week. There is such a powerful message of redemption in this story, and whether you like musicals or not, let me encourage you to make the effort to see it when it’s in theaters.
One of the biggest things to happen this year took place on April 24th – that was the day that my first book went to print! For a few years I had been working on a book that would challenge teens and young adults to take a serious look at injustices that are prevalent in the world today. I’d been compiling research and doing some minor writing off and on, but it wasn’t until I stepped away from full-time ministry last Spring that I was able to fully focus on finishing the book. By September it was done and I immediately had a major Christian publishing company offering a contract. After a lot of prayer, I ended up publishing with a small ministry I’d worked with for several years, and at the end of April The Justice Revolution was sent of for its first print run of 6,000 books. I’m happy to say that as of today, almost all of those books have been sold! For more information on the book, to download a sample, or to go ahead and purchase one, visit the website by clicking HERE.
Another big event came just a few weeks after my book went to print. On May 9th (which also happened to be my birthday) I received an offer to transfer into a much better position within another department of UnitedHealthcare. This transfer took me away from phones and into the Training & Development department as an Instructional Designer – a fancy title to say that I am part of a team that creates the training materials for our company. I’ve always loved design work (layed out my book on my own as well as designed the cover!), so this was an exciting move for me – and it brought a nice pay increase as well. To say that I’m enjoying this change would be an understatement, as I’ve been able to travel a bit, I can work from home when I want to, and our family now has the freedom to live anywhere in the US that we want to since I work remotely (online). That last bit has become a focus of prayer and a lot of discussion, and I’m eager to see what God has for our future.
With the book going to print and the job promotion, that gave us the ability to move into another home. We’d been renting from some friends for the last couple of years which was a tremendous blessing – but the house was a 3-story stilt home and it spread our family out over all of those floors. It just seemed like we were never together, even though we all lived under the same roof. We’d seen a home a couple of blocks away that we fell in love with about 2 years ago, and we knew that if the current tenants weren’t going to renew that it should come up for rent soon. It has a nice open-concept living area (living and dining rooms, kitchen all in one main space) that the “life” of the house takes place in. Coming home from a Memorial Day observance here in town we saw the For Rent sign out front, and within a few days we’d signed a lease to move in mid-June. The beautiful plus-side to this home is that it’s right on the water at the top of Tampa Bay, fulfilling a life-long dream my wife has had. I’ve got to say though, that there’s a flip side to that answer to prayer – things like what happens when a tropical storm submerges your dock and dumps about 15 pick-up truck loads of seaweed and trash into the yard just two weeks after moving in. Yes, that really did happen. Lesson learned.
Another dream of ours – well, of mine – was fulfilled this year… to get to see the “Wild West”. As I said earlier there is a bit of travel that comes with my new position at work, and in September they sent me to Arizona to observe a class we’d created the training for. This put me in Phoenix for a week, and at first I’d hope to stay there for two weeks and then use the weekend in-between to drive up to the Grand Canyon (something I’d wanted to see since I was a boy). This didn’t work out, but I was blessed instead to fly in early on Sunday morning and use that day to drive just a couple of hours north of Phoenix to the town of Sedona, which has some of the most amazing views in all of Arizona. While there I was able to do the short hike up to Cathedral Rock and the area below it known as Red Rock Crossing, which happens to be an area shown in many old cowboy films and the site where most of the film Broken Arrow (starring Jimmy Stewart) was filmed. This was a thrill for me, and I can’t tell you the amazing feeling to stand out in the middle of all that beauty all alone and know that God had arranged for that childhood dream to visit the west to be fulfilled in such a way. You can see all of the amazing pictures from that trip in a blog posting by clicking HERE.
Throughout the year our sons all passed some significant milestone birthdays… Noah turned 15 (driver’s permit age here in Florida), Josiah turned 18 (he got to vote for this first time and this will be his graduation age), Caleb turned 21, and Andrew turned 25 – imagine how blessed they are to have such young parents! We also welcomed another nephew into the world as Tracy’s brother and his wife had Aaron (son number two) back in May. Something else that’s been pretty interesting is that even though we haven’t been in full-time ministry, God has given us opportunities to be a blessing. Tracy led worship a couple of times a month for the first half of the year at a local Celebrate Recovery program, we hosted our city’s annual National Day of Prayer observance once again, and we were asked to be a part of a very special memorial program here in town for fallen soldiers – Tracy doing music, and me leading in prayer. We’ll never forget the deluge of rain that flooded the event making things quite interesting – but Governor Scott and Congressman Bilirakis both stayed through the wind and rain, along with all who really cared. It was pretty powerful.
The highlight of the year came just a couple of weeks ago… our son Caleb married his fiance Shelby (a girl so beautiful on the inside and out) that he held his heart for since they were both in middle school. This was a remarkable thing for them, as we had encouraged them to not date anyone until after high school (something we ask of all of our boys, wanting them to come to know who THEY are first before taking the heart of a young woman into their hands). To be honest, we know how hard a request that can be – but Caleb and Shelby honored it well. It was almost 6 years earlier to the day of their wedding, that they stood on a beach and promised to wait for each other until after high school. It’s a beautiful story of love and obedience, and I can’t wait to “read” the chapters as their life moves forward. For me, the highlight of this wedding was to be the pastor presiding over it. I can’t begin to tell you how nervous I was (not something that I usually have an issue with), but I think the emotion of it being the first of our sons to marry, as well as knowing what this meant to both of them, really hit me in the moment.
To say that something is “wonderful” literally means that it is “full of wonder”. That is the premise of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life – that Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey, comes to realize how important his life is and that each event that he would look at as something tragic in his life, actually was something that God used to bring George to the next thing that he was to do. Now the word “wonder” has two basic definitions… it can refer to being filled with amazement or awe (to marvel at), OR it can refer to being filled with doubt. Isn’t that strange? What I’ve come to realize even more this year is that many times it’s the things that we look at in the natural that would cause us to doubt, that are the very things that God is using to get us to sit back and marvel at what He is doing – or is about to do. Why does He work this way? Why not just let things happen without causing such a stir? Well, I’m not God so I can’t answer that. I just have to be satisfied with the promise He has made to each of us through His Word: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)
While I may not think my life is always wonderful, I do see that it is wonder-filled. And I’m OK with that.
Did you hear that, Annie? I know, it’s about time one of us lunkheads said it.