2016…A Success Story

2016…A Success Story

For many 2016 has been a year of incredible anger, sadness and loss. I’ve seen more posts about how people are happy to have 2016 over than any year I’ve seen before.

The election was a horrendous mess.

We lost many amazing people who contributed to our society in so many ways through science, government or the arts. The hardest one for me was the beautifully talented Carrie Fisher who was an important part of my childhood.

Yet for me personally, 2016 has been the most redemptive year to date.

Now before you continue reading this, please note that this is long. Please also note that I do not see myself as some high and mighty holy person. God has done A LOT for my family and I this year. My writing/posting this is done in gratitude for what He has done. It is my hope that it is a seen as an example of what He can do, and that potentially someone finds some inspiration or strength from this.

So 2016…it started off in the worst possible way…

I began the year unemployed for the first time in 16 years. Despite applying for well over 100 positions I had heard nothing, from anyone, except for one. Even then it was looking like a long shot.

My wife, kids and I entered 2016 not sure what lay ahead, and didn’t have a lot of confidence.

Then it got worse.

Satan took advantage of my pride, anxiety, depression and attacked me relentlessly. I kept reaching out to God, but my mental illness made it 100 times harder. I could not see the forest through the trees and I couldn’t believe that the tunnel had an end.

I was praying. I was diving into the Bible every day but nothing seemed to be working.

Then it got even worse.

I hit absolute rock bottom.

So rock bottom that my wife didn’t have the strength to be around me and needed to get away. So she did what was best for her and left. So not only did I not have a job, but my wife was gone and nothing was looking up.

I couldn’t understand what was going on, or why God was allowing this to all happen. I still had faith in Him. I still believed in Him but I couldn’t understand why He would allow so much pain to come to me.

The reality is that God was doing His work. He was working in ways that I could not even comprehend.

During that time…

I had to genuinely search myself while connecting with God. No more surface level prayers. This was constant soaking in His word ALL DAY long through devotionals, books and my Pastor’s Daily Hope podcasts. It was the deepest I had gone since I had committed my life to Him.

I was forced to work out so many issues I thought I had long dealt with through almost daily therapy. I also finally connected with a wonderful psychiatrist who got me on the right medication.

My wife and I worked together on our marriage through therapy and an amazing book called “Beyond Ordinary” by Justin and Trisha Davis. My wife came back home a few weeks later and our marriage got re-built on the solid ground of God’s word. Our relationship is now better than when it first started 5 years ago, and connected on a level we never thought possible.

God surrounded us with family and friends (some thousands of miles away) who not once told us to throw in the towel, they encouraged us to keep going, to keep fighting for our marriage and our family. They had the rough conversations they had to have with us. They prayed for us. They loved on us. They built us up. They helped make us stronger.

God made sure our finances were covered. Every bill got paid. Every meal was taken care of. All of our needs were met. Some of it was Him moving others to provide me with piece meal work. Some of it He moved others to secretly send us gift cards. There are still expenses that got covered that if you looked at the numbers on paper they shouldn’t have been. The numbers wouldn’t balance out. The only way to explain it is God. PERIOD.

Then He decided that I was ready to begin work at Saddleback Church. The ONE and ONLY job prospect I had, finally worked out. Shortly after Easter weekend I signed on as a contractor and got back to work.

There I found my new work home and family. I was not only appreciated for my talents, but my heart and personality. Even better the work I was doing was an important part of bringing people to Him. Helping them connect with Him and tap into the incredible love, power and strength that only HE could provide. So not only am I able to provide for my family, I’m able to do so through helping others.

On a side note, I have to mention that a large part of me getting into this position was because of my step-daughter’s father Rommel recommending me. Not only that but saying that he’s okay with working with me. Yes, that’s right I work with my wife’s ex-husband. That is ABSOLUTELY GOD IN ACTION.

On November 8th (yes, election day) I officially became a member of the Saddleback Staff.

On Thanksgiving I got to enjoy my first paid vacation time in over a year.

Last week I got to serve at Christmas services as Saddleback Staff. I welcomed as many people as I could wanting them to have a great Christmas service experience, with the belief that every “Welcome”, “Merry Christmas” and “Hello” mattered. Then I had the privilege of  getting to pray with someone who came to service after attending Celebrate Recovery. I was blessed to be able to help someone who was going into their own year of recovery.

So when I look back on 2016 I see a different story than others do. I am reminded of two pieces of scripture that God made sure I saw quite a few times.

The first was while reading “Beyond Ordinary”.

He ground my face into the gravel.
    He pounded me into the mud.
I gave up on life altogether.
    I’ve forgotten what the good life is like.
I said to myself, “This is it. I’m finished.
    God is a lost cause.”
I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
    the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
    the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
    and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

– Lamentations 3:16-21 MSG

It forced me to let go. It forced me to acknowledge that I had hit rock bottom and that God needed me to hit it. It’s not that He wanted me there, it’s through my choices and/or lack of choosing that led me to that point. It was the only way I was going to let Him do his work. It was a reset button on how I looked at and lived my life in every way shape and form. The beauty of that verse is the last lineBut there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:”.

That hope is God and His promises, which leads me to what has become one of my life verses.

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

He very much fulfilled that promise through all of 2016. Now some might say, but He let you go through those rough times. My reply to that is “No, I put myself in that situation through the many decisions  I made or didn’t make in life. I got myself there. He got me out.

God is like any parent. He’ll keep letting you know in various ways that you’re going down the wrong path. You choose to listen or not. He wants you to willingly listen to Him or come to Him. He’ll never force you to be in a relationship with Him, but He will always be there for you when He ask for Him. Keep in mind that He’s not a magic genie to summon and magically make everything better. You have to work for it, but His strength and love is greater than anyone or anything will ever be able to provide and IT WILL GET YOU THROUGH.

If you listen to Him, He will teach you things that you never thought you needed to know. There are lessons He’ll give you that will help you avoid making the same mistakes over and over. As our Pastor Rick Warren tells us…if you don’t learn the lesson the first time, you’ll keep going through it until you get it.  2016 forced me to listen really well.

2017 will have its ups and downs. I don’t expect it, or the rest of my life to be perfect. He never once promises that. I still have a lot of growth to do as an individual, husband, father, friend, employee and co-worker.

That’s where my second life verse comes into to play..

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
-Philippians 4:13 NLT

When I need strength I will look back to 2016 as a shining example of how He can get me through anything.  If He can get me through this. He can get you through whatever you’re going through.
In closing I would be remiss if I didn’t give thanks to all of the family and friends who supported us every step of the way. Every little thing you did helped God do His work here on earth. I would list all of your names, but there were thankfully so many I’m afraid I’d accidentally forget someone. You all know who you are and Jenny and I will forever be grateful for each and every one of you.
If you’re reading this and finding yourself in the same or similar place I was, please know that you can do it. Please let me know in a comment and I will pray for you. Better yet, I’ll ask a lot of other people to pray for you as well. Yes, complete strangers will pray for you. That’s how it works.
Thanks for reading…now as my favorite Coach, Bill Belichick might say…”We’re on to 2017!”

Things I’ve Learned From Working For MY Church…

Things I’ve Learned From Working For MY Church…

If you went back in time 10 years ago and told me I’d be working for a Church today, let alone a Church I love, I would have laughed in your face. I thought God was an entity that punished you for not following His rules. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, and that revolved around making a lot of money and climbing the corporate ladder. Excessive Pride & Money…the very things that lead to a less fulfilling life.

Today I wish I had embarked on that path a long time ago.

God is like that though.

First, He wants you to want to go on the path. He will never force you, and He will never love you less for not doing it sooner. Like any good parent.

Second, depending on how far you went down the wrong road, you have to make the trek back onto His path. There’s no Chutes and Ladders shortcut. I’ve found it usually takes a lot longer than I wish it would be, but every single time it was all perfectly timed. You find out there was work you had to do on yourself and He had to do on you all along that path.

I could write a whole book on how He got me here…but that’s for another time.

So after 4 months of working for Saddleback Church as a Project Manager for the Creative Services team, I felt it was a good time to talk about what I’ve learned.

Let’s get the negative out-of-the-way real quick…

The enemy CONSTANTLY attacks every member of our Church team. Physically, mentally and emotionally. He knows we’re doing great work and he hates every bit of it. This has been a very emotionally draining job because the enemy tries to frequently convince me that because of my past mistakes, I don’t deserve to work at Saddleback Church. I wasn’t sure what people meant by this during the interview process, but I get it now. Working for the Church is NOT for the faint of heart/soul. The enemy will never win though, not with God on my/our side.

With that done, let’s look at the positives of it all and why I wish I had gotten here a lot sooner.

  1. The corporate ladder is GONE…
    Your focus is on using your God-given talents to do great work. Gone for me are the days of trying to do something to stand out from the crowd to be recognized so I can go another rung up. Everything I do is to either help spread God’s love, or help my team out. I still get recognition which is nice, but it’s for personal satisfaction not advancement.
  2. Grace is practiced daily…
    It’s practiced by every single person, myself included. We all make lives challenging for our co-workers, but in most corporate environments your trespasses and those of others are noted on some mental note-board. Those trespasses are used later either to climb another rung, or to manipulate you later. In my Church the initial frustration is expressed, but then you work together to work better together as you move forward. It took me awhile to get used to mistakes not being career landmines, but once I did my stress level was significantly reduced.
  3. Humility is seen as a strength, not a weakness…
    Make a mistake in corporate America and admit to it? You’re typically seen as weak. Make a mistake in your work for the Church? Our Pastor Rick Warren wants us to! He has publicly stated that he encourages us to make one mistake a week.  The only caveat is that we have to learn from them and not make them again. I’ve owned up to every mistake I’ve made and each time my co-workers/managers have looked at me as a stronger person, they show me grace & forgiveness, then we move on.
  4. It’s about RELATIONSHIPS…
    There’s always work to be done, and you do need to make sure you get done what needs to get done. They don’t want your head down and focused on work the whole time though. At Saddleback, talking to your co-workers in and out of your department is strongly encouraged. I don’t have just the typical water cooler chit-chat. I’ve had some amazingly deep conversations with others. Souls have been bared and love is extended each and every time. I’ve prayed with them, they’ve prayed over me. My team (some of them in the pic) have become my second family. God help the person who tries to mess with/hurt them.
  5. It’s about faith in Him to get things done…
    On average every week we get about 35-40 requests for some creative services piece. This is on top of cranking out a bulletin that gets customized for all 12 of our California campuses. There are Mondays I look at our production board and wonder how we’re going to get it all done. That’s when our team turns to God and says “Your Will Be Done”. For a couple of hectic weeks I added God as a member of every project and a label that said “God’s Will Be Done”. Every single thing  that needed to get done for Him, got done. The only way it happened was because of Him.
  6. It’s about who God is molding you to become…
    We recognize that God has us where we are for a reason because He is using us in some way shape or form at that time to serve Him. We have talents that make us as individuals and a team better. Our leadership believes this strongly and provides us the guidance we need (through His direction) to help God mold us into what He wants us to become.
  7. Prayer and talking about God is an everyday part of work life…
    You’re probably going #duh of course you do that in a Church. After 20 years in corporate America, it’s different for me and provides daily refreshment. In today’s society talking about God or praying together in the corporate environment is often seen as weird, or oddly enough even a weakness. It’s nice to openly talk about Him and the good work He is doing. Now we don’t all go around constantly blessing each other, quoting scripture, singing worship songs through the halls (although the Worship team appropriately does sing in the cubicles on the other side of us), and praying at set times throughout the day. All of it is done when the spirit moves us or when we need to draw on His strength.
  8. A paycheck is an honor, not an expectation…
    A paycheck used to be something I would expect to get as a representation of the hard work I put in. Like many others there were times where I felt like it wasn’t enough. Today it’s become a blessing and the icing on the cake. I love my work so much, it’s a bonus to get paid to do what I do.
  9. No matter what it is you are doing as part of your work, it ALL has meaning…
    My work used to revolve around the goal of helping either the company  I worked for or others to make more money. Today my work is used to reach out to others who are trying to get through today’s world on their own strength, instead of leaning on God. It’s used to encourage those that do believe in Him, to keep leaning on and learning from Him. IT IS THE MOST FULFILLING WORK I HAVE EVERY DONE. When things get challenging at work, it’s awesome to think about God being proud of my work. It’s feels great to think of the others who will be with me in Heaven because I helped get a flyer printed, or a sign put out for an event. Because of the work that my team, my Church and I do every day, lives are literally saved.
  10. I am loved for who I am, by EVERYONE…
    I have had the fortune to work with many great people, and on many great teams. I have been cared for, loved on and supported by so many in my career. There were many times though where I felt like others thought I was odd, or just didn’t get me. I so often felt like a obtuse peg trying to be fit into a round hole. It made for really uncomfortable work environments. I finally feel like I found my obtuse hole. While I’m sure my quirks, personality and humor may not always be loved, I as a person truly feel loved and wanted by all.

Yeah, that’s a lot from just 4 months. It’s pretty exciting to think about what could come from the next 4 months.

To my team I say thank you. Thank you for your love, support, encouragement and friendship. I love you all more than you’ll ever know. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us. #TEAMMARCOMCSFORLIFE

A Simple Cup Of Water

A Simple Cup Of Water

As I was on my run through Mission Viejo, I came upon a man on the corner with a cardboard sign that said “PLEASE HELP”.  He was also wearing a shirt that said he was homeless.

I won’t lie, I found that a bit odd. I kept on running.

Then it hit me. God whispered in my heart to help the man.

It didn’t matter what my perceptions were, my fellow brother in Christ needed help.

I was reminded of words spoken by Jesus himself.

“If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded” – Mark 9:41 NLT

All I had was two fives. It was money I was using to stop at the store later to pick up some groceries on the way back. Most people tend to give homeless people just a few dollar bills. If we don’t have ones, we don’t give them anything.

I turned around, pulled out one of the fives and very happily gave it to the man.

I saw the face of an older man. A man who has lived a long life and was struggling. This wasn’t some younger person with their full physical abilities. This is someone much further along in their life.

His face lit up. He thanked me profusely. He told me he’d pray for my family and I. I told him God loves him and to take care.

With that I continued on my run.

Then I felt guilty. I felt like I should have given him all of my money. After all I was going to be headed home to a house. I’d be eating a good dinner and sleeping in a comfortable bed with my family all under the same roof.

After turning around to head back home, I decided I’d offer to go buy him some food at the store. I’d make sure he was nourished.

As I came back up to him, he saw me and smiled. He thanked me again. I asked him his name, and found out it was Henry. We placed our hands on each others shoulders. I talked to him and asked if I could buy him some food. I told him I wanted to make sure that he was eating and taking good care of himself. He said thank you, but he was fine. He pointed to his bag where I saw he had some food given by other people. I checked again,”Are you sure there’s nothing I can get you?”. He said he was fine and then told me again that he would pray for me and my family.

I told him again to take care, told him God loved him, put my headphones back in my ears and went to go cross the street.

Then I felt him touch my shoulder. I turned around, took out my headphones and with him staring into my eyes he said.

“Jesus loves you. I will pray that He will give you and your family double.”

I started to tear up.

I thanked Henry before I became a sobbing mess on the side of the road.

How did this man know my struggles? How could he imagine to say something that I so badly needed to hear at that moment?

When you’re un-employed, financially stressed out and anxious to get back to work, those words just dive deep into your soul.

While my faith is strong, when your stress limits are pushed to the edge you begin to wonder how much God loves you. After all, if He did wouldn’t He want to make things better? Despite the most intense levels of perseverance, you just want the pain over with.

At that moment, I felt like God was talking to me through this man. As if God found a way to remind me in an audible way that He does in fact love me and that help was coming.

Henry had just blessed me more than any amount of cash could possibly bless him.

As I recounted the story for my wife later that evening I did break into tears. As I write this I find myself tearing up.

My family and I prayed for him later that evening, and I kindly ask that you do the same in your prayers.

While I know I did a good thing for Henry, in the end I realize I was the one who got the biggest blessing. The greatest gift. The greatest help. It’s a moment in my life I will remember until the day I die and will forever give thanks for.

Perseverance

Perseverance

Hard times. Troubles. Challenges. Trials.

We hate those words.

Those words scare us.

No one in their heart of hearts ever desires to really go through them.

No matter your age, gender, nationality or wealth you get to experience them multiple times throughout your life.

Sometimes we deal with multiple challenges and trials at the same time. I really hate that!

Like myself, you might be dealing with them right now.

What’s interesting is that as a society, despite the fact that we hate these struggles, challenges and trials we enjoy movies, books, TV shows, and music that tackle these words head on. For me, it’s always been movies that mean the most. It’s the medium I connect with and speaks to my heart and soul.

“Apollo 13” and “The Martian” are two movies that stand out amongst the crowd.
Apollo 13 is perhaps the most meaningful because it actually happened.

Here you have three men in space, and hundreds on Earth who have trained and prepared for what is to date still one of the most daunting voyages ever undertaken. The crew of Apollo 13 flung themselves into the cosmos, knowing there were so many things they couldn’t predict or anticipate. It required a huge level of faith.

Then so many things went wrong, none of which they were ever prepared for.

While it’s amazing that they overcame everything, what’s more amazing is their perseverance. They kept “working the problem” no matter how tired, hungry or afraid of death they were.

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be more mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:4

That perseverance taught all of NASA, and the world not just how to solve those problems. It taught them how to deal with, or avoid future problems.

Perseverance isn’t easy. It’s the part we hate the most about our trials. We want to pray away, wish away, or pay away the problem. We just want it to go away, get our lesson and move on.

While that may work, it’s a band-aid. You aren’t taking care of the root issue and you aren’t really preparing for what’s coming down the line.

Your perseverance may be required for days, months or years. There may even be times where you think you’re done, but you’re really still in the middle of it. It’s the center of the storm, and you still have a dark, overwhelming journey ahead of you. That right there is so scary to realize and accept. It gives me chills just writing it.

Even scarier is that you may have to deal with something that requires perseverance for the rest of your life. That’s really hard to admit and write.

Being out of work for the last 4 months after 16 years straight of employment, I have struggled with perseverance every single day.

Getting out of bed realizing I still don’t have a job.  Trying to find a job. Trying to get interviews. Trying to not let the disappointment crawl into my head and affect my moods, or impact the people around me. I want to snap my fingers and make it all go away, I want God to make a job immediately appear.

Some might say “If God loves you so much, then why doesn’t He make it all better?”.

Could He? Yup.

Do I wish He would? Every day.

God is not a vending machine.
God is not a genie.
God is not Amazon with next day delivery.

He wants to help us with our problems, but He’s not interested in immediately solving all of them. He wants us to learn perseverance. He wants us to put faith in Him at a level that some find a bit illogical.  As the passage in James 1 continues…

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:5-8 NIV

I have learned that while I lean on Him for guidance, strength and wisdom He is refining me like a goldsmith. He is keeping me strong through the fires so that what comes out on the other end is an even stronger person.

“Then I will test those survivors by giving them many troubles. The troubles will be like the fire a person uses to prove silver is pure. I will test them the way a person tests gold. Then they will call to me for help, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘You are my people.’ And they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” – Zechariah 13:9 ERV

What’s comforting is that He’s promised that if we stick through it. If we persevere. If we stay close to Him that HE WILL deliver us. HE WILL make life better. HE WILL prepare us for the next challenges that we encounter.

It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s frustrating.

He will NEVER forsake us and NEVER break a single promise.

While my trials aren’t over by far, I am stronger and getting stronger every day.

I know this because…

He’s brought me through the challenges of the past.
He’s bringing me through the challenges I’m going through now
He’s going to bring me through the challenges in the future.

It just requires perseverance and putting absolute FAITH and TRUST in Him. 

In the end He will make us like a precious and strong metal with a value that can never be measured. We will then proudly proclaim Him as our great God. The provider of all providers. The father that loves and supports us 24-7, 365.

For those who are fighting the fight, or multiple fights. Know that you are not alone. Keep persevering. Keep praying. Know that He is in your corner.  He is fighting for you. He is with you. Yes, even those that don’t believe in Him.

For those that have fought the fight, or are in a calm spot. Keep praising His name. Keep leaning on Him. Keep the perseverance alive. Help your fellow brother and sister through their fight. Remind them that they too will make it through. Remind them that they’ll be better than when they first started. Pray for and with them, especially those that haven’t given their life to Christ.

God has got this.
God has got you.
PERSERVERE ON