Saturday, May 14th, 2016
It had only been two days since I had planted a tree in remembrance of our daughter who we lost a year prior.
The time had come for my family and me to take the next step. It was time for me to answer the task and purpose which I felt on my life since I was a little boy.
Since the day of Elizabeth’s passing, that call from eternity had become a white-hot inferno deep in my soul.
Her passing had caused everything, which I had traversed and navigated throughout my life, to culminate into a massive center of gravity. Her loss was too personal and too precious to go unanswered. All the trauma I had gone through had to be used for good, but I didn’t know how.
Every tear, every loss, and every heartbreak stitched into the fabric of my life was preparing me for my created purpose. I began to see that God had woven a golden thread with each experience – the good, bad, and even the painful.
While I didn’t know what the details of His purpose on the map of my life looked like, the discovery of that purpose wasn’t something I’d be able to find on my own. The raw fire in my heart needed to be channeled and shaped into a usable forge in which God would fashion the tools I’d use to fulfill my life’s calling – and so, I felt God quietly speak to my heart. The first step in building that forge was to seek seasoned and wise counsel from people who have the time, resources, vision, and capacity to help steward and shape what I’ve been called to do.
My family and I were already actively receiving the best grief counseling available. Each therapy session played an integral part in piecing together the shattered pieces of our minds and helping us heal both together as a family unit and as individuals.
As we were already actively engaged on the road of emotional healing, it was also time to integrate spiritual mentorship and guidance.
We needed to go back to a church which we had attended a few years prior, back when we had first arrived in the Hampton Roads area. It’s a large and dynamic fellowship located in Virginia Beach, Virginia. They have a powerful and relevant message of hope, life, and purpose and the senior pastor is one of the leading voices in the faith community today; both in the United States as well as internationally.
In addition to our robust emotional therapy and grief counseling we were already getting; I knew that this particular church was where we needed to be, as we prepared for our calling and purpose.
I felt God speak quietly to my heart, telling me that He was ready and able to use every shred and fiber of our family’s traumatic experiences for good. But I had to be willing to come under wise leadership, take a step of obedience, and reconnect to a larger family of faith who could help me to carry and responsibly steward these painful life experiences properly. These experiences started with the loss of my daughter, going all the way back to the loss of my dad, as well as everything else I had walked through, in between those two defining points of pain.
Previously, the hour-long drive to the church seemed to justify itself through the excuse of convenience. It was a different time and my heart was in a much different place. Back then I wasn’t ready to ‘pick up the phone’ whenever I felt God calling me.
This time not only did I answer, but I also refused to ‘hang up’. This meant that I didn’t care how long the drive to church was. The blow of losing Elizabeth had me focused like a laser-beam pursue to the good that God wanted to bring about.
Sunday, May 15th, 2016.
It was a beautiful, warm day. The sounds, colors and sweet fragrances of spring caressed the senses and the sun shined as if lighting our path toward a new frontier. An invisible tether was drawing us back to a place where we belonged. Thousands of families around the area, state and country were all getting up to do the same thing we were – going to church. But for us, we weren’t just going to church – no, for us it was so much more.
We were stepping into a place where we’d be connected to life, find meaning, discover the good, and begin the journey of fulfilling our purpose. It was the place where I was going to learn to yield all the pain to God, learn to grow in fellowship, learn a new definition for the word brotherhood, learn to submit to leadership and discover how God’s fingerprints are all over every aspect of my life.
As we pulled into the parking lot and parked the car, it was a powerful and emotional moment for my family and me. The last time we had been there was with Elizabeth – in fact it was in that very same church that she had given her heart to Jesus back in 2013, shortly after her first hospital stay. There we were, going back to the same church because she wasn’t with us anymore.
By the time we got settled in and the ushers showed us to our seats, our eyes were already welling up with tears. As the worship music touched our wounded hearts, the healing power of praise washed over my family and me – even my youngest daughter Isabella (who was eight years old at the time) had tears running down her cheeks. God was there, and we could feel it.
Following the service, Erica and I went to go get Isabella from Sunday school, but something in my heart said that I needed to go and introduce myself to the senior pastor, who was down at the front entrance greeting everyone as they were leaving. He’s a dynamic, personable and down-to-earth guy, whose genuineness and warm, engaging way with people sets the tone and heart of the entire church.
Typically, at the end of every service, there’s a line of people waiting to say hello or chat with him, so while I was heading over, I thought to myself, ‘There’s going to be a long line, and we won’t have a chance to catch up.’ To my surprise, as I rounded the corner, I saw the pastor talking with one of his staff members. No long line – no significant group of people. I walked up and introduced myself. We chatted for a few minutes, and he asked how everything was going. That’s when I gave him a quick background on everything that had happened in my family, and our reason for being back in the church that Sunday.
In that particular moment and encounter, I wasn’t looking for a solution – I was looking for connection and accountability. I sought linkage to a larger life-source and strong leadership to help develop my family and me spiritually, as well as relationally with other people. The calling which had been laid on my heart and the burden weighing on my soul couldn’t be answered within a five-minute conversation, and the pastor, based on his years of experience knew all that. After we talked for a few minutes, he asked for my phone number. He wanted to connect me to some other people in leadership in order to gauge the emotional and spiritual climate of my family, help me find my footing moving forward, and ultimately help me discover the size and scope of what God wanted me to do.
Later that afternoon, I received a call from one of the other pastors on the church leadership team. He and I spoke for about an hour and covered some of the more personal details and background of my journey. As the conversation drew to a close, we made plans to have coffee and talk more a few weeks later. He also gave me some background regarding the size and scope of the church and how they were continuing to expand to new locations, known as ‘campuses’ around the area and even across the country. In fact, the church had recently started holding services at a new campus in Chesapeake, which wasn’t too far from where my family and I were living at the time, so he provided me the address and service times.
The following week we attended the church’s newest location in Chesapeake. Services were held in a hotel conference room. Everything at the Chesapeake Campus was a near exact replica of the environment and dynamic at the central campus location, which is in Virginia Beach. The lights, music, and sound may have been on a smaller scale, but the Holy Spirit and God’s presence was just as massive and uncontainable as it was at the Virginia Beach Campus.
The new location was led by a campus pastor along with his wife and family. Immediately he drew Erica and I close and got to know us and our story. We had found our home and were fulfilling the beginning stages leading to our purpose, and the calling God had laid on my heart.
Weeks slowly added up into months. Erica and I were getting involved in nearly every activity that our new church home had to offer, and we were getting to know the rest of our new family. I had a tenacious drive to immerse us in a culture full of life and closeness with God. We joined a home Bible study, spent time with the other couples encouraging one another, and attended significant conferences held by the church. Each engagement was intentional and had a singular focus on us being accountable and being connected to a corporate network of Believers who have a positive life vision and strong faith.
The Chesapeake Campus became our new family. Slowly, priceless relationships were formed, and lasting friendships developed. This little family of ours was there to help us learn to walk again after suffering our most tragic loss.
Erica and I engaged steadfastly in our new life of faith and fellowship. Every Sunday, we were connecting on a deeper level with our church family, and every conference we attended downloaded truth and life into our hearts. Leadership, passion, faith, initiative, healthy thinking, healthy relationships, and how to live a life of excellence – all of these were tools and topics which were being added into our lives. The fire burning in my heart was being stoked and fueled, and the first pieces of the vision God had for my life began to take shape. Initially, I wasn’t sure where to start, but then I realized that He had already equipped me with much of the skills I would need to get the ball rolling.
One evening, sometime during the first week of August, I knew it was time to start writing, working on a blog, and sharing my story. I was at my desk upstairs in the loft and looking up information online on how to purchase a website name, how to start a blog, who the best blog hosting services are, etc. The flood of advertisements and information was overwhelming. My eyes ached from staring at my computer screen. I needed a break. Exhausted, I leaned in and rested my elbows on the desk, cradled my head in my hands and began to pray – “Father…how do I do this? I know you’ve called me to serve you and work for you. I’ve felt your hand on my shoulder since I was a little boy. You’ve been with me during every trial and tribulation. Through it all, you’ve never left me. I’m laying at your feet every bad memory and every painful experience. Use them for your glory and purpose, so that others may know you and see you as the loving Father that I know you are. Guide my hand and mind…give me the words to write and speak.”
After I prayed, I had peace in my heart. I got up from my desk, took a break and knew, that when a came back after a little while, God would show me what do to and how to do it. A few hours went by, and I went back upstairs to the loft, sat back down at my desk, and began to look for the best-rated blog posting services. Within a couple minutes, I came across one that allowed me to purchase a website name and had an easy-to-use interface for me to design and upload my content. ‘Whew…well that was easy, thank you, God’, I quietly said to myself.
Now the next step – choosing a name for my website and blog. Once again, I stopped what I was doing, prayed, and then took a few minutes to think and clear my mind. Then I took out a piece of paper and jotted down some words like: ‘destiny, purpose, driven, focus, plan’…and then all of a sudden it hit me, ‘I’m a career Sailor. I’ve served in the U.S. Navy since I was 20 years old. What does the crew of a ship use to know where they’re going when sailing the ship? They use a chart!’
All ships, merchant or naval, use charts when navigating the open seas or when they are near the coast and close to shore. The crew sails along a course which has been charted. These charts show the location of land masses, navigational aids (like buoys and beacons) and even underwater hazards such as rocks, sandbars, and shipwrecks. For things like storms or emergencies, the crew can make adjustments and change course, but all of this is still accounted for on the chart. The chart will show where the ship has been and where it is going.
That’s when I realized how everything in my life has been charted by God; meaning He knew what was going to happen and when it was going to happen. My life wasn’t by accident, that I’m not sailing the Seas of Life without a chart for me to look at or reference. Sure, I’ve had to navigate through some severe storms, and I’ve even run into some dangerous hazards, but all of them were on the chart. God knew where each storm and danger was…some I had to sail through and others I sailed around.
As I sat there and wrote the word CHARTED down, the word LIFE fit right next to it…followed by the number 365; because every single day of our lives has already been charted by God. He knows the terrible storms we’re going to sail through and the dangers we’re going to face – every hurt, every pain, every broken heart, and every tear – He knows them all, and if we let Him, He can use them…
The Boat – Imagine a little tiny boat, on the open sea. The weather is overcast; the ocean is angry and choppy. The small boat bobs up and down, moving along as the frothy white-capped waves break against its sturdy hull. As this little boat moves along on its journey, storm after storm rises up out of the dark, murky grey. The winds howl and rage, lightning flashes, the thunder roars, and the sea beats against the little boat.
Now what I forgot to mention, is that our little boat was the smallest and seemingly least of all the other grand vessels back in the harbor. Our little boat didn’t look the strongest or fastest. Many people even said that it wasn’t much to look at.
People back at the pier overlooked it – and to those whom the little boat was entrusted, they either neglected or abused it.
The irony is that the seemingly least and smallest, of all the boats, has actually sailed through the deepest oceans. Our little boat has been plummeted by heavy wind and seas; it has sailed through back-to-back hurricanes, spent more time underway, and had fewer times in-port, than most vessels twice its size. Despite all this, there is something special about this boat. Despite its tiny and unimposing appearance, its hull and structure are stronger and hardier than most craft. It’s as if it was designed and created by its builder to withstand the harsh environment it was going to sail into – it was as if the builder knew ahead of time that the little boat was going to face storms that would sink any other ship – but not our small boat. Our boat is sturdy, strong, and brave – because it was made that way.
What no one noticed, not even the little boat, is that all those years on the high seas through storms and crashing waves didn’t weaken it. No, instead the years of turmoil and tempest made it stronger, faster, and more agile. Every crashing wave and gust of wind added strength and structure. The keel became stronger, the hull became thicker, and the beam became wider. Its engines burned hotter and cleaner.
Over time our vessel is no longer a little boat, but it has instead become a mighty warship – a capital ship that rivals and even surpasses all the other vessels it had left behind in the safe harbor, so many years ago.