Smooching Stones and Sucking Wind – 3 of 21 Ireland Posts

I have always heard of the “smooching stone” in Ireland, but I never knew the work that it would take to actually gain the opportunity to kiss it.

20170327_131903

The Blarney Castle has been there for quite some time. In fact, the original castle was built out of wood in the 10th century. It wasn’t until around 1210 that a stone structure was placed on this site and over 500 years before the Irish stumbled on the recipe for Guinness. This was a LONG time ago!

The day that I entered on to the Blarney property was my 40th birthday! I hadn’t planned this encounter to be on my actual birthday, but the fact that it fell on this day made it incredibly special. Ireland had been a trip that I was supposed to go on with my dad, but… sadly… he passed on in a motorcycle accident nearly two years ago. So, I took him there with me in spirit and he has an incredible view today, but he would have LOVED this castle.

It was ancient and you could get up close and touch and climb and explore. There were secret dungeons you could travel through…

20170327_141115

Some were really scary…

20170327_141107

And others provided cover for some pre-Carboniferous limestone kisses…

20170327_140957

But, now it was my turn to ‘pucker up, buttercup’… so we made our way to the castle and looked up. The rock that I needed to kiss was at the top of that wall. Yes, at the top of the wall…

20170327_135529

So, we found the stairs and started climbing…

20170327_134654

…with my glutes burning, we kept climbing and climbing and climbing…

20170327_132939

…and climbing some more. Until finally, we made it to the top of the castle. The view was unbelievable.

20170327_133018

You could see for miles and you could tell why they had picked this spot for a castle. If an army was on it’s way, you could see and be prepared for their arrival. For us, we weren’t there to find an army… we were there to find a rock that was in need of some loving. So, we got in line and waited our turn.

There were signs to read along the way. Did the Blarney  Stone move?

20170327_133554

And the explanation of the difference between ‘blarney’ and ‘baloney’.

20170327_133449

And then… the moment came. It was our turn. I looked to the man about to secure me from falling face first into a grate and the bottle of disinfectant liquid sitting next to him. I felt good… knowing that the stone had been cleansed by chemicals some time in the last 24 hours.

I empty my pockets and prepare to do the yoga move called “upside down leprechaun”. Deep breath.

20170327_134238

Muah!

A lifetime of eloquence awaits.

20170327_134241

Happy Birthday to me!

Will I get a lifetime of eloquence? Probably not… at least not from kissing a stone. But, I will have one incredible story to tell for the rest of my life about how I spent my 40th birthday. That, in itself, is worth the smooch and so much more.

Life is short. It is here today and gone tomorrow and if you don’t step out of your comfort zone to do something crazy every now and then, you may end up looking back with no stories, but a pocketful of regrets. Saying things like, “I wish I would have…” or “If I could go back…” or “If things would have been different…”

You can’t and it isn’t!

You won’t be able to go back in time and things aren’t different. Things are the way that things are and you have one simple choice… work with what you got. Tomorrow isn’t promised. All you have is this moment right now. Start climbing those steps. Start touching those ancient stones. Get those lips ready… cause they are in need of some smooching.

Slainte!

GP

For the first post on Ireland, click here.

Advertisements

Fear, Friends and French Cuisine – 2 of 21 Ireland Posts

 

Ireland taught me that friends are all around us waiting to be made. We just need to step out to find them.

Before leaving on our trip I reached out to some churches in Dublin, Ireland and let them know that I’d love to serve them for an afternoon while I was in town. I told them that I could teach them a few things about using social media in a church setting.

I received a simple message back from one of the churches.

Hi Greg

Thank you for contacting us regarding your visit to Dublin and your offer of help. One of our Leaders, Joe Kerrigan, would love to meet with you when you are over.

Man! I was as happy as a puppy with two tails. Life was good!

The appointment was set and I was now going to meet with a Christian Leader in Ireland. In fact, this perfect stranger offered to come to our hotel in Dublin and pick us up. So… two days into our vacation my hotel phone rings and my wife and I head down to meet our new friends.

This is the moment when the fear and nerves began to kick in. You see, stepping out of comfort zones is fine with me in the beginning, but then you look and realize that you are actually doing it and you begin to question and sweat and worry and think and come up with excuses of why it wouldn’t work or shouldn’t work or why you should just stay home and do something more productive like plant another field in your Farmville world and…

Deep breath. 

I am slightly nervous and I’m not afraid to admit it. I mean… I am about to hop into a car with people I’ve never met to go to a place I’ve never been before to discuss a topic that I’m not sure will translate well. Oh wait. They speak English. I guess the ‘translate’ thing didn’t apply. However, I was just nervous and it crept into everything I thought about. 

So, we hop into the car and within five minutes I realize what a fool I was to be nervous. These two people, Joe and his wife, were awesome folks with big hearts, lots of passion and filled with stories that made you sit forward in your seat. Before I knew it, we were like long lost friends who found our ways back to one another.

20170325_192048

We drove to Joe’s house after a quick tour of the city and settled down into an afternoon tea. (Just between you and me, this tea thing is really starting to grow on me. I am traditionally a latte guy, but busting out a tea bag, milk and sugar is super quick, mighty tasty and makes me feel pretty classy. But, tally ho… I digress.)

In addition to Joe’s work in ministry, he is also a French trained chef… and an incredible one at that. Before I knew it I was tasting yummy delicacies as the room began to fill with the church leadership team. The room filled up and so did I.

20170325_162927

We all gathered around a big table and I began to talk about the journey of THE PLACE Church and how we have grown with the help of social media and before I knew it there was an incredible discussion taking place. There were questions and answers and laughter and dreaming.  And I looked around the table, in awe of what God had done.

20170325_162934

Sitting around that table were all sorts of people… there was a person who worked at Google and others who had run international ministries and others who had poured their lives into caring for the underprivileged in their community. And… here I was sitting with them because I sent out an email with a simple message:

I am here to serve.

After a couple hours the crowd thinned and the pastor asked if we wanted to grab a bite. We said “Sure” and were off. We drove the scenic route and saw sheep and castles and roundabouts and more sheep. (There are a lot of sheep in Ireland.) We pulled into a small seaside town and started walking down the lane next to shops and boat docks.

As we walked we talked. We chatted up church and God and our testimonies and music and history and our family tree and… (it was a long walk). And then we came to the steps.

The steps were about three feet tall each and there were probably five or six. They created a wall that you couldn’t see over, but you could climb up. Joe told me that he used to fish off these steps, but he wasn’t big enough to throw the line in. I imagined the vastness of this moment for a small child, because I felt the vastness of this moment for me… right then.

I climbed the first step. Eager. I climbed the second step. The top of my head could feel the cold wind. I climbed the third and fourth and reached the top of the stairs and my breath was literally stolen from my lungs. Not from the briskness of the air, but from the beauty of the moment. I knew that I had to share this moment with you, so I snapped a quick photo.

20170325_192033 (1)

 

This was my life in that moment. This was my reality.

However, I thought back to how it came to be. It was birthed in stepping out of my comfort zone. It was birthed in a willingness not to take… but to give. It was birthed in my willingness to let a stranger in close enough to know me… and in that moment, I was able to know him back.

I wonder how many of us miss out on the sunsets because we don’t have the courage to send the email. I wonder how many of us let that fear or anxiety stop us from following through on opportunities that sit all around us. I wonder how much more you could experience, if you would just be willing to get uncomfortable.

Start today. In this moment, make a commitment to get uncomfortable… to say “yes” when you’re scared… to reach out when you want to run away… to turn a stranger into a new friend.

And hurry up! Your sunsets are waiting.

Slainte!

GP

(To start with the first Ireland post “She Said Yes – Again”, click here. To read about my Irish memorial for my dad who passed away, click here.)

She Said Yes! Again – 1 of 21 Ireland Posts

So, I never really did it right the first time.

I know what you’re thinking… GP? The hopeless romantic? The guy who just oozes public displays of affection and memorizes poetry by Yeats? That guy never got down on one knee to propose to his wife!?!?! 

Well… I didn’t. And, I stink at PDA and wouldn’t know Yeats from Jagger… but there is always hope.

So, I came up with a plan. 

Step One: Tell wife she is cut off from all of my online banking and shopping activity.

Step Two: Find the perfect ring. Emerald… cause we will be in the Emerald Isle. (Well, I guess I am “kinda” romantic.) 

Step Three: Wait for the perfect moment and take a knee. 

Well, steps one and two were cake. The third, however, not so easy. 

I knew the Cliffs of Moher would be the best place because they are so stinking breathtaking! I mean… you walk up to this:

20170329_124931

It doesn’t get better than that! But, then there was the walking. You see, you have to walk up steps and ramps to get on top of these beasts. We came to a dead end. We have to choose right or left. Both sides are cliffs. We toss the imaginary coin.

We went right.

“Right” led us to a beautiful watchtower and a TON of people.

20170329_124345

They were everywhere. If people were bad mullets, this would have been a Whitesnake concert. It was infested. People were taking photos and walking with food and kids and coffees and no idea where they were going except up and out along the cliff’s edge and edging out my hopes of ever unloading this ring which was getting heavy in my backpack.

I shuffled around waiting. More people came. I spoke… “Uh, let’s go that way.”

It was the exact opposite direction that we had already gone. But, it was beautiful…. so it was fairly easy to talk her into it.

20170329_140044

We begin down the trail which it nice and paved and doesn’t draw the same kind of attention as the watchtower did. But, the nice paved trail leads to a dirt one as we pass by a sign that looks like this:

20170329_140251

Uh… yeah. Let me zoom on that if you didn’t catch it.

20170329_140258

This might as well be a skull and cross bones saying, “Cross this sign and YOU MAY DIE.” But, it doesn’t seem to stop the slow trickle people headed that way… so like a sheep led to the shearers, I keep calm and carry on. (Witty British connection there if you didn’t catch it.) 

We walk. I start thinking of things to say. My palms sweat. I don’t know if it is my nerves about the ring or the 750 ft. death plummet to my immediate right. I walk. 

“So… uh. We sure do some pretty crazy things don’t we?”

I see the PERFECT spot coming up. I am going to time this moment perfectly. There is no turning back.

She replies, “Yes”. She grabs my hand a little tighter. This is going to be great! and then I hear…

“BLOODY HELL!” A British teen jumps off a rock about 25 meters ahead of us. (Did you pick up on my use of meters? Yes, it had been a week and I had abandoned use of trivial things like inches or miles.) “You’re gonna push me out there.” The teen yells to an equally loud and annoying friend while motioning to the edge and the final plunge towards eternity.

I think how quiet it could become it they get a little closer to the edge. I shake out of it. I smile and offer my patented “courtesy laugh”. They continue to be loud and obnoxious, but they are headed towards us so I know it’s only a matter of time before they pass. I speak.

“Let’s stop and enjoy the view.” 

I look out over the water choke back vomit which enters my throat as a putrid smell fills my nostrils and envelopes me. I look behind me. It’s a field covered in a liquid brown fluid. I remember the words of the bus driver from yesterday, “Eh. This is the season where we fertilize the fields for planting.” 

Of course it is. Fertilizer. That season.

My wife tries to smile through a wrinkled nose. I know it’s only a matter of time before she retreats. I look at her kindly, pointing up ahead and say, “Let’s see the view from up there.” She obliges and we walk.

We reach a part where there is more land to grip my body on one knee. So, I speak… “Let’s get a picture.” I look left. I look right. The trail is clear.

20170329_134245

My wife is turned away looking back down the trail towards the poop stench probably thinking, “How can we get back to the car without traveling by that field again.” I pop open the box, drop my backpack, turn towards her as I lower myself to one knee. I speak, choking back tears… “I don’t have many regrets, but always regretted not doing this the right way. Would you marry me… again?”

And then I heard the words that I had longed to hear…

“BLOODY HELL!” as a British teen jumped off a rock above my head.

No, I’m just kidding. I heard the words… “Yes. Of course I would”. I stand and we do what any good American couple would do at a time like this. We kiss and then take a “selfie” of course.

20170329_134511

So, there you have it. There is a lot to learn for me from this day. 

Every day is a gift and sometimes things aren’t going to go the way you want. We make our plans and things don’t always work out that way. But, don’t let those moments stop you from pressing forward. Whether it’s a crowd of mullets or the stench of manure getting stuck in your nose hairs… don’t stop. Keep going. Because… the journey is the destination. So many, stop too soon.

Embrace the people in your life who mean the most. Don’t live in regrets from what you ‘wish you would have done’. Go out and do it today. Create TODAY the kind of TOMORROW that you want to live in.

I leave you with this simple Irish blessing.

“May you both live as long as you want and never want as long as you live”. 

Slainte!

My Dad’s Final View – Cliffs in Ireland

So, I went to Ireland the other day.

Yes, it was amazing. Yes, it was a dream come true. But… it was something else.

It was a trip that I was supposed to do with my dad. Well, at least until he passed away in a motorcycle accident a year and a half ago.

The trip was amazing though and my dad would have thoroughly enjoyed every single last bit of it… except the driving part. He would have definitely hated that. But… other than that it would have been a perfect trip for him. 

My wife and I decided to do something a little different. We took him with us on the trip.

Not in his angelic form… because he looks ridiculous in a diaper and he doesn’t know how to play the harp.

Not in the ashes form… because he is laying down next to my mom in a grave in Ohio right now.

No… we took his picture. A subtle reminder of the trip we weren’t able to do the way that we had planned. But… one that he was with us anyways.

The final day we went to the Cliffs of Moher. I believe that it would have been the highlight for my dad. Six straight days from Dublin to County Clare went by like a flash, but the Cliffs get stuck in your brain. They are spectacular… and I know that my dad would have loved them.

So, we dropped him off. 

20170329_124755

You know… losing your dad is never easy. I have lost both my mom and dad now and sometimes feel like an orphan. However, I know that I am not alone and my parents did the best job they could with me. I am who I am because of what they did in my life. 

So, my dad deserved someplace special. Yes… it was sad… and has been sad the last year and a half… 

20170329_124832

But, we smile. Sometimes we hide tears behind glasses and sadness behind smiles. But, we move on. We continue the journey of life and take what has been given and do the best that we can with it.

For my dad, he left me looking at a beautiful life that I can only have because he never stopped loving me and believing in me. I have been unlovable many times, but he never gave up and I won’t ever stop striving to live the best life I can to bring glory to God and the memory of my parents. 

Today, my dad is smiling upon one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

Want to see what he’s looking at? Enjoy a little bit of his view…

20170329_12473320170329_124931

Slainte Dad… I will always love you!

GP

Grandpa Dan, Cleveland Indians and a Hug from Slider

20130715-135519.jpg
Yesterday my boys and I had a great time at the Indians game. This was their first ever baseball game and WE WON! It always make the day a little sweeter when it ends in victory. But, what made it the best that it wasn’t shared alone. Grandpa Dan came along to make it extra special for the boys.

20130715-135828.jpg
All in all… A great day!

If you can, take some time to spend with your family today. Whether it’s a generation up or a generation down… don’t miss the opportunity that lies before you today. Even if it’s simply a hug… Give it today.

20130715-140348.jpg

Family Time: An Overlooked Priority

There is something awesome about locking yourself in a car with your family of five for thirty hours. If you all are able to make it out alive, then you are sure to learn a little bit about patience, stress relief, biting your tongue, gripping the steering wheel hard, smiling through gritted teeth and proactive parenting. You will learn about constructive ways to discipline and you will learn the beauty in those little things that you often overlook. You will see the beauty in your children…

In fact, this trip… so far… has been the single most important decision of my life when it comes to my children. I really love my kids, but don’t get the time to share that love with them enough. Sure… I tell them I love them. I hug them. I kiss them. I bless them with stuff. But, this only means a little bit to them. This isn’t how they “experience” love. They experience it in the cheapest and most expensive thing that I have to give…

My TIME!

Time is the way that they experience love. It is in the moments where you pick up your four year old and hold him in your arms or take time to play a game with your eight year old or have a conversation about life with your fourteen year old. It is in these moments that they truly experience the love that you have so deeply for them.

I had one of those moments yesterday. After wrestling with the fear that there could be an alligator lurking in the depths of the pond/lake in our backyard, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go out for a swim. (It helped that there was another family a few homes down splashing around in the water. I figured if they hadn’t been eaten yet, then my odds were pretty good.) As soon as I brought up the idea… the boys were ready to roll. In a few short minutes, we four boys headed down the steps to the water.

It only took about five minutes to coax the kids to enter the water. Zion was convinced there were alligators (the gator tour in Louisiana didn’t help this), but as I dove in and swam deep in the waters, I could see his fear beginning to dissipate. I would hear his voice… “Are you SURE there are no alligators?”

I’d answer, “Do you think I’d be in here if I thought there were gators?”

He finally saw the fun that we were having, threw caution to the wind and waded out into the waters. Before I knew it, we were splashing each other and jumping around. It was great! The kids were having a blast and I tapped into a joy that I hadn’t had in a while. In fact, there was a picture taken as we were lounging around in the water…

My boys and I in the Georgia Water

My boys and I in the Georgia Water

 

A smile that can only come from family. A smile that can only happen when you know you are doing the right thing. A smile when broken paths become whole again. A smile that God brings to His children and a smile that my children brought to me.

There’s a joy that comes from loving your kids and putting them high on your priority chain. There is a peace that comes when you express love through time to your children. There is a happiness that many people long for but don’t often achieve when you look outside of your own ambitions to meet the needs of another… and how much greater is that happiness when those you look to are your own children.

I want to encourage you to take the time for your children today. Call them on the phone if they are out of the house. Tell them they matter. Tell them that you care. Spend some time with your kids this week. Wait… I said that wrong.

I don’t want you to “spend” any time with your kids. This is not how I want you to see it at all. Instead I want you to…

“Invest” some times in your kids.

When you “spend” something, you often don’t get anything in return or that which you do get is not as fulfilling as you had hoped it would be. But, when you “invest” something, you are sure to get much more than you put in to it at the beginning. Choose to “invest” some time with your kids this week. Whether they are in diapers or have a family of their own, invest in their lives this week. 

Keep Shining!

GP

Punching Pastors, Bouncy Houses and Southern Hospitality

We have had a couple BIG days!

First, we had the cross country jaunt from New Orleans, Louisiana to Valdosta, Georgia. The kids did great enduring the trip as our packed out SUV careened throughout the clear highways of Louisiana, Florida and Georgia. We have made a deal with the kids that has already paid off quite well. It is a deal that I would encourage any family that is traveling cross country to do. It is this…

For every state that the kids make it through without fighting (OK… maybe it is just keeping the fighting to a minimum.), they will receive a dollar. That’s right… one slightly used greenback with the not so smiley face of George Washington staring back at them. The result has been a cross country trip that has been fairly peaceful which has only cost me about five bucks a kid. Well worth it!

It’s worked in a great way! Try it out. If you have teenagers, it probably won’t work as well… but my 4th grader can still be controlled with the promise of a dollar 😉

So, here we are in Georgia and it is beautiful. I have practically been blinded by all of the green. Being from the desert, green is a sight that I often don’t get to see. However, I have been so happy to be surrounded by the trees and grass and have absolutely fallen in love with a thing called “Spanish Moss”. It hangs from the trees and looks gorgeous on the Georgian landscape.

Spanish Moss in Georgia

Spanish Moss in Georgia

On our first day in Georgia we just grabbed a bite to eat, regrouped and hit the hay. It had been a long day of driving and we were happy to be at our home base. The next day we hooked up with a pastor friend of mine by the name of Kelly Barcol. Kelly is the only pastor that I personally know that has fought in a Mixed Martial Arts battle and won! He is an inspiration, a church planter and an incredibly charismatic dude. He has an awesome faith community called The House of Joy in Valdosta, Georgia.

Pastor Kelly Barcol from the House of Joy

Pastor Kelly Barcol from the House of Joy

Pastor Kelly with the Victory!

Pastor Kelly with the Victory!

I love Pastor Kelly! He has such an awesome heart and his desire is to reach people with the love of Jesus (plus he could probably break my arm in one of his “atomic arm bars”. I don’t know if he calls it “atomic”, but that sounds really cool! He should.)  He is an evangelist at heart and I can see this gifting and passion being utilized in great ways. He is doing a phenomenal work in the lives of many in the community of Valdosta.

On day two in Georgia, we hung out while the kids went to an indoor bouncy house warehouse called Jumping Jacks. The kids ran around like chickens with their heads cut off… which was great after our eight hour car ride… they needed to expel some energy. 

photo (16)

Jump’n Jacks in Valdosta, Georgia

But, the reason for my visit to Valdosta happened today as I was able to preach at the House of Joy. From my very first steps onto the campus of this church, I knew that I was at home. Kelly has done a great job planting this church as a “parachute drop in church planter” ten years ago. I love church planters and the creativity that goes in to reaching people for Jesus and I could see this “heart” manifested in his team. I loved their commitment in setting up the different areas and praying for the service and going out of their way to make sure that new people were served.

I heard testimony after testimony of how this church had impacted the community. From drug addicts who the pastor would never give up on to intellectual college professors who were drawn in by the church’s love for family… the testimonies kept coming and coming. It was great to be able to give back to a community like this. The message went over amazingly and I was so honored to speak into the lives of these wonderful people. I hope and pray that this isn’t my last visit to Georgia and that the church I pastor, THE PLACE, and the House of Joy can do many great things together in the future!

After church, we went out to eat at a restaurant called “Cheddar’s” and this is when it really hit me. It was something that had been rising up from beneath the surface for some time, but it wasn’t until we hit this place that I truly began to understand the meaning of two words that I had heard used together many times before… but didn’t truly understand. These words are:

Southern Hospitality

It’s so true! People are different here than anywhere else that I’ve ever been. I’ve never been in the “deep south” like this before and I’ve never experienced this kind of hospitality. Let me give you some examples…

#1: We went in to get the kids a haircut at Walmart and didn’t walk out until 90 minutes later. Why? Because the guy cutting the kids’ hair was so talkative and friendly. I would look forward to getting my hair cut if this guy were the one doing it. He talked to people like he had known them for years and was filled with kindness and a story for everything that we talked about.

#2: We went to a restaurant and the server couldn’t do enough for us. She found out we were new to the south and made sure that the cooks made us up some “fried okra” so that we could have a southern favorite. We washed that down with some “sweet tea” and were good to go!

#3: In the line at the Salad Bar I overheard a conversation between two people. The one was telling another about Jesus and how to live a life that honors God. In fact, these kinds of conversations are heard everywhere. I am definitely in the heart of the Bible belt and everyone is incredibly open with their faith and their love for Jesus.

#4: I have had more “long conversations” here than ever before. People seem to want to talk. From the gas stations to the grocery store lines to the church parking lot to the men’s room… there is always a conversation to be had. And, they never seem rushing off to do anything else. They want to stop and talk and spend time with you. It has been so therapeutic to my “running full tilt boogie” way of life that I normally have.

The southern pace has been so nice for me. I am so happy to have had this time with these wonderful people to learn more about them… but also to learn more about myself.

I have been reminded of the words of Jesus as he spoke to His disciples in Mark chapter 6: “And He (Jesus) said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Mark 6:31

In ministry (and life) we can get moving pretty fast. And, when we get going, we find ourselves having to keep the pace that we have created. We have to keep it because it has been the standard. It has been the thing that has allowed you to get where you are and the only thing that is going to allow it to continue. But, instead, the opposite is really true.

Southern hospitality understands it… Jesus understands it… and I think that I’m reaching the place where I understand it too. In order to excel, sometimes you need to slow down.

It reminds me of a recent ride that I went on through the desert in my buddy Roy Fegley’s ATV. It’s a “ranger” and a ton of fun… at least it was until I was about two miles in the desert and the engine stopped working. There I was in the middle of the dirt with the sun pounding down on me. I was wishing that I was more mechanical or knew more than the location of the gas pedal… but I didn’t. I had no idea what to do. So, I did what anyone would do, I opened the hood and stared at the engine like I knew what I was looking at. What I saw was something that definitely wasn’t right… there was green liquid all over the engine.

Calling Roy on the phone, I asked him a single question… “Has this ever happened before?”

His answer… “No.”

My answer… “OK. Just wondering.”

His answer… “OK. Talk to you  later.”

My answer… “Bye.”

Hanging up I realized that I was back where I started… hot and perplexed in the middle of nowhere. So, I sat and waited and thought and waited. After a while, after the engine cooled, I was able to start it and limp it to safety. Reaching the autoparts store, we bought antifreeze (the green stuff), filled it up and kept going.

By stopping… by checking under the engine… by addressing the areas that needed addressed… we were able to drive home at full speed. We were able to operate at full potential.

My life is the same way and so is yours. Some of you may be broken down in the desert right now. You are frustrated and don’t know what to do. You have popped the hood and you know that there is something seriously wrong, but have no idea on how to fix it.

Others have started to let the engine cool and you are limping it back to the garage. You are working on the problem and have slowed down enough to get your life to a place of safety. You are on the road of recovery.

Either way, you have to open the hood and look at the engine. You have to take time.

Follow the words of Jesus.

Exercise some southern hospitality…

Or, better yet… receive some southern hospitality.

Don’t rush here and there. Don’t operate at a break neck pace. Slow down and appreciate people and situations and the life circumstances that you find yourself in.

If you do this, you just might find God moving in the midst of the peace. Take time today to rest. Take time today to listen. Take time today to simply “be”…

GP

Leaping Gators, Willie Nelson and “the best day of my life”

So, in the words of Willie Nelson I’d like to say that we are “on the road again”.

We pulled out from the Big Easy about 8:30am and hit the Southern Superhighway known as 10 East. Our time in New Orleans was great! The food was amazing, the family time fulfilling and the new experiences memorable for all of us… but especially for the kids. In fact, a big part of what I’m doing right now has to do with them.

You know, you only get one shot as a parent and a lot of time that slips by really quick. I’m not going to bust out the chorus from Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle“… but I could! (Wow! I must be in a musical mood. First Willie Nelson and now Harry Chapin. Be prepared for some Axl Rose which is sure to come!) I have personally been running non stop for the past three years building a church which has been growing and doing great things… but if I ever sacrifice my children on the altar of ministry, I am surely missing it… BIG TIME!

If you are excelling in ministry or business or anything else, but missing out on time with your family it is time to readjust. You are NEVER going to have a right time. As a leader, you need to MAKE the right time. You need to trust God to take care of the details that only you can take care of and honor him with your work… your pleasure… and your family. That brings me to yesterday’s activity.

Yesterday we went on a gator tour. And, this just isn’t any gator tour, this is the “official” Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp tour in Slidell, Louisiana. It was my third time on the tour and I couldn’t wait to share the experience with my kids. It is pretty awesome to see a sixteen foot alligator leap out of the water to eat a hotdog off a stick. If you haven’t experienced this yet, you must move it to the top of the bucket list. It is awesome. Here is a little bit how it’s gonna look…

Gators love hotdogs!

Gators love hotdogs!

Big Gator Swimming

Big Gator Swimming

More on the gators later…

But, the truly amazing thing didn’t happen as the massive reptiles were leaping from the waters, but as the boat was careening down the bayou at an incredible rate of speed. It was in that moment that my eight year old leaned over and said these words to his mom…

“This is the best day of my life.”

If you have never heard those words from your child, then it will be hard for you to understand what it felt like. I can’t capture the feeling in words here. But, if you have ever heard your child say those words when you weren’t expecting them then you know exactly what I’m talking about. It makes you think to yourself…

“I must be doing something right.”

And I know that it wasn’t the gators that made the day “the best” and it wasn’t the swamp or the copious amounts of food or the music on the street or the driving in the car… I know that it was because of the “time” that he is getting. Time that he needs. Time that they all need. Time that is so cheap to give, but that pays back incalculable dividends.

It’s a lesson that I feel so blessed to have learned. It is a nudging that I am glad I heard and I am glad that I responded with a “yes”. It is something that has costed me so little, but has already returned such a great reward.

What about you? Sometimes we can get so caught up with “building a life for them” that we neglect to “build a life with them”. We work to provide and make something substantial out of our life while neglecting the one thing that God has given us that is worth far more than any job, career, ministry or opportunity. It is the responsibility of raising his sons and daughters that have been entrusted to us for a small season.

Do you have the focus on the right thing?

If not, don’t wait. Do something with them today. Hug them a little tighter today. Tell them how much they mean to you today. Listen to them talk to you today. Turn the TV off and ask them about their thoughts and feelings and about their friends… talk to them about life and watch that seed of caring begin to bloom and blossom.

Back to the gators…

We reached this point when we had seen quite a few gators individually. We would see one, feed one, talk about one and then move on to the next spot. But, we reached a place where we were nestled in between these trees as we coaxed a small gator over while our captain made the noise of a baby gator and slapped a stick against the water. The gator started slowly to make her way to the boat. I looked down river and saw another ripple making his way to the boat.

It was another gator. I looked to the right… another gator. Before I knew it, there were four or five gators surrounding the boat. These are territorial gators who were looking past their angst towards one another to focus on another target… dinner. And what was the dinner? Us! They weren’t after marshmallows or “hotdogs”, but the “human dogs” sitting in the boat!

But it’s funny… because I wasn’t once worried. Here I was surrounded by animals who would love to eat me and my entire family, but I wasn’t scared. My heart wasn’t racing. I wasn’t planning my escape. I wasn’t even thinking about an exit strategy. I simply sat back and looked at the beauty of the animals who wanted to kill me.

I wondered why… and then I remembered… I trusted the captain of the boat and knew that he wouldn’t take us somewhere that wasn’t safe. He had been here many times before and knew the dangers like the back of his hand. I felt safe because I trusted the captain.

I started to think about my life. It is sort of the same way. There are gators swimming all around. In other words, there is a consistent amount of danger that is always around the boat of my life. Whether it is spiritual or emotional or physical or financial or anything else that has the power to destroy me. It is all there swimming quietly around the boat waiting for the opportunity to pounce. But, I am not stressed or scared or worried.

Why? Because I trust the captain… Jesus Christ.

I believe His words that I don’t need to worry. I believe that He’ll always be with me. I believe that He’s not going anywhere. And, it doesn’t matter how many gators surround my boat because I trust my captain.

Sometimes, you may be worried or stressed or anxious about the gators in the waters around your boat. I want to encourage you to focus on the captain in the midst of those moments. You have nothing to worry about when Jesus is the captain of your boat.

Today, be encouraged! Love your kids and love the captain of your life. There’s no better way to live!

Much Love,

GP

p.s. “Welcome to the Jungle!” There’s your Axl Rose!

😉

Jazz Clubs, a Puddle of Vomit and “People Like That”

There are worse places you can be… I am currently sitting on a balcony overlooking a pool in the courtyard of the Place d’Arms (a hotel nestled in the thick of the French Quarter). Sure, it is 6am and I am only awake because my 8 year old kicked me out of my bed… but isn’t that what memories are made of! Plus, it gave me the opportunity to give you an update. So, as I sit here, swat mosquitoes and dream about the beignets that I’ll be eating at the Cafe du Monde in a little bit, let me tell you about yesterday.

Leaving San Antonio was bittersweet. We had such a wonderful time and the friends we made there were great. We had stayed at a friend’s house which is owned by an OB doctor with two lively kids. The doc does work with families who live in poverty and had some great stories about her work there. My boys loved that they now had two friends to play with and burned off a ton of energy running around the playground at Lakeland Air Force Base and jumping in and out of their pool.

Lakeland AF Base with San Antonio Friends

Lakeland AF Base with San Antonio Friends

But, like all good things, that had to come to an end. We hit the road around 6:30am and headed to Louisiana. About nine hours later we pulled into N’awlins!

A little side note here… the kids have been amazing! We were very concerned with having them in a car for as long as they have been, but they have been great! I am not trying to jinx myself here, but after well over 20 hours in a car… I couldn’t be happier.

So, we pulled into New Orleans yesterday. We were famished after the trip, so after check in at the hotel and a brief tour, we hit the sidewalks to find a place to eat. Now, the way that I have been locating restaurants lately has been through Yelp and it has not let me down yet. It is what I used to find a great little hole in the wall in Phoenix called “Cafe D’lish” and what I used to find our next stop… The Camellia Grill.

The Camellia Grill was a 4 star rating and only one dollar sign (that means cheap) and in walking distance of the hotel, so we took the stroll 0.2 miles and walked into this little restaurant. You sit at a counter in this little hole in the wall and the staff are incredibly friendly and kind to your kids. I was quick to ask for a recommendation… as I do at about every restaurant I go to… and ended up with a Catfish Poboy (I am a strong believer in eating according to my location and Catfish sure sounded great!) It was really good! If I go back I think I’ll try the smothered Roast Beef Poboy… it sounds amazing! After some delicious grub, we hit the road again.

Xander and I at the Camellia Grill

Xander and I at the Camellia Grill

We walked to the main strip and crossed to water, choosing to walk the path which borders the river. It is filled with locals, tourists, homeless and artists. From the dixieland music blasting from the riverboat to the chorus of an out of tune “Free Bird” being sung by a homeless guitarist… music was in the air. I walked and smiled as I watched my kids (ages 4,8 and 13) take it all in.

It’s new and different.

I had the talk about things that are “inappropriate” before we came. Being here two times before, I knew of all the “T-shirts” or sayings that pop up in the store windows and wanted them to be aware of what was appropriate and what was not. I didn’t want them to be surprised. I wanted to have that discussion with them first. I wanted them to know how to react when you see something inappropriate. I wanted to teach them about “bouncing your eyes” when you see a half dressed woman and not returning for a second look. (A lesson on Lot’s wife would be great here… but I just thought about that now. Maybe later today!)

I hear people talk sometimes about the French Quarter being the “city of sin”… and they are right. It’s here. It’s out there. Drunkenness and debauchery and sexual depravity and even some others that I choose not to discuss here. If you can name it, I’m sure it’s here. And what makes this “so bad” is that it’s not hidden. It is out there for the world to see. There is not just an endorsement, but a flaunting of it.  But more on that in a minute.

For those that can take their eyes off the evil, there is an incredible beauty here. The music is like no other. Tara and I peeked our head into a club that had musicians playing that far outweighed any talent that I have seen in recent years. The singing was the quality of Aretha Franklin and the musicality of the band was impeccable. This was not some “garage band” bar band, but phenomenal musicians who had a love for their crowd and a commitment to excellence with their music and their showmanship.

A few blocks down we popped in to hear some jazz. They quickly ushered us past the crowd to the very front row. I, literally, could have strummed this guy’s banjo myself. It was awkward and uncomfortable and awesome… all at the same time. The talent was like no other. And there was music like this going on in every place down the block. Phenomenal musicians giving their skill and their talent to audiences who truly appreciated their craft.

Front Row for a Jazz Band

Front Row for a Jazz Band

Let’s get back to the sin…

In every crowd that I’ve seen since I’ve been here, the one common characteristic that I’ve seen are God’s children who have been filling them. His creation… His loved ones… His kids. From the urine stained homeless man strumming his six string to the banjo playing Jazz man who I could have helped play to the drunken man who finds himself waking up in a puddle of his own vomit… God loves all these people. In fact, He loves them so much that He came to die for them.

The problem for us is that it is messy to reach people like this. They don’t look like you or act like you (or maybe they do… and in that case you understand exactly what I’m saying) and it is easier to simply look at them as “people like that”.

But, I got to tell you the truth… I was once known as “people like that”. I was the kid who partied too hard and looked “different” and was seen as a lost cause to many. I was “given up on” because of how I acted or how I behaved. But, there was a lady who I met one day that looked past all that and saw a “human being” in desperate need of the love of Jesus and shared with me the love of God and the Gospel message… and my life has never been the same since.

The lesson for my kids… and the lesson for me… is that sometimes we have to look past our initial thoughts on a place or a person and try to see it the way that God does. See it filled with hope and a future… see it filled with people who need Him… see it as an opportunity to shine bright and not simply as a place to avoid. 

So, we continue our journey. We continue to see life and love and messy humanity all mixed together into a ball of awesomeness. We’ll continue to shine God’s light and, as a father, I’ll continue to answer tough questions. I will continue to try to hear God’s voice over the noise. I will try to learn lessons in my travels to help others. I will continue to let the N’awlins cuisine fatten me up and I will continue to love people and life.

Today, allow yourself to see God in all the facets of life. Next time you look at “one of them”, remember me… for I was (and am) “one of them”.  Shine God’s love into every life that you come into contact with and you just may be surprised at what you find Him doing.

Happy Travels!

GP