Friday, October 11, 2019

A Real Journey Through Grief

My Facebook messenger while in ballroom dance that night.
**If you have come to this blog expecting to read about the victorious Christian/pastor that has moved on since his mom's will be disappointed. The VICTORY IN CHRIST part is that he hears our cries and understands.This is a messy blog showing real life as a ragamuffin trudging onward with God's help.**

I will start with this statement:

Those who have never lost a parent they loved and were loved by will never understand what you are going through.

I found it to be true as I have lived on both sides of that statement. This blog stems from the upcoming one year anniversary of my mom's passing.

I have conducted many funerals for people that were dearly missed by their family members and a few where the family didn’t get out of the car for the graveside service. Regardless, I have always maintained that I would prefer to conduct a funeral than officiate a wedding (perhaps more on that in another blog) but nothing prepared me for what it was like to lose my mom. 

Since the day I was born I was a mommas boy. The way I would worry and cry when my mom left the house for work, church, etc. when I was a little boy is the same way my youngest son acts when my wife, Tracy leaves our home. I was attached at the hip to her. Even when I moved into my first bachelor pad in Bay View (Milwaukee), WI. I would call and stop in at home just to say hi. It is safe to say that she was my biggest cheerleader and friend. I truly feel bad for boys who do not have the love and support of their mother. 

It was October 22, 2018 at 7:19 PM when my cousin began messaging me. It was a set of messages that sent the worst feeling through my body (see screenshot picture). I remember calling my aunt only for her to answer the phone crying. My aunt is a straight shooter and she told me my mom just died. I was in ballroom dancing class with my wife when I made that call. Instantly we left because I desperately wanted to get down to Milwaukee but I first had to take the babysitter home. There were a few reasons as to why I wanted to get to Milwaukee as fast as possible. I was going to be the one that notified my dad of her passing. I relentlessly called his cellphone as I was driving. He finally answered and I told him the news. With such big news his first response was shock. My dad has never had a strong heart so I immediately went to his house when I arrived around 9:30 (I may have been speeding). I picked him up and we went to the facility where my mom was off and on that year trying to rehab pain she was dealing with. 

After picking my dad up from his house and upon our arrival I remember asking my dad if he was ready to go up. We were met by her nurse in the hallway where my mom’s room was. She told us she is still in the room where we can see her. After walking into that room I remember the air conditioner on full blast and seeing her lay there. In no time my dad began to cry. I had one arm around him to support him mentally and physically as I have seen people react in different ways at the news of their spouse passing. After a little while my dad said we can go, I knelt down…gave my mom one last kiss….told her I loved her and that she was an awesome mom and did a fantastic job raising two boys. 

They say everyone moves on at different times but never really recovers from such a great loss. To me my mom was one of my best friends and those are pretty scarce. She would always call me wanting to just chat and I likewise. She would always tell me how proud of me she was. Even in my younger years she always gave me the benefit of the doubt and truly loved unconditionally. I have often times said she was my biggest cheerleader and to hear someone say regularly to me “I am so proud of you” meant the world. Now it is gone.

People have told me over and over to focus on the good memories and I totally get that. I am forever grateful for the fun times and the strong foundation of faith both my mom and dad have instilled in me. I have many of those stored up in my mind. In my basement I have boxes full of pictures from the past of her. With all of that however I still have it fresh in my mind what she looked like that night laying in her room. I will never forget the look and how at that point I was the one supporting my dad with my arm around him as he cried. The roles have changed and I knew my life just jumped to the next chapter. 

So, it is almost a year later and I still find myself randomly in the storage side of my basement looking at old photos. There is a red jacket that my mom wore during the winter to church and Christmas parties. It was supposed to go to charity but after loading it into the car a few weeks after her passing, I fell apart. It had her perfume on it and is currently in a bag in my office.  I have not used my home office since she passed because I have stored many of her belongings in there. Nothing of large size but many hand-written notes, Bibles, even two of her dolls she made clothes for from when she was a little girl. A couple of weeks ago I went to organize the office and ended up not being able to finish due to anxiety and sadness. When I do get to Milwaukee and am able to stop at the cemetery, I am thankful that I am alone because I am a crying mess as I sit and talk.

Life is still full of regret as I wish I could have been there for my mom as she drew her final breath. Earlier that day I spoke to her on the phone and she was not making a whole lot of sense because her speech was not understandable. That should have been a red flag for me. The person who was there for me and so many others was now left to leave this world by herself. That’s thought is something that I deal with weekly. Over this past year I have become way more in tune with peoples hurts and needs as a result of this.

This blog got to be very long but I miss her…God do I miss her. Until my dying day I will boast that Donna Adams was my mom. 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Radiant Fellowship: A Narrative

I have been finding it more and more important to share the story of Radiant Fellowship. A little church located in Waupaca, WI. A church that had a sketchy start only to be re-booted about a year and a half after it launched. This little niche church started in someone’s living room and ultimately launched publicly in 2004 in the Cupola room at the Ramada Hotel in Waupaca, WI. Today Radiant Fellowship is located at 420 N. Harrison St. in Waupaca, WI. Please keep in mind that this narrative begins with me coming on staff at the early part of 2004.

It was October 2003 when things unraveled quickly for Tracy and I in Milwaukee. I will spare the details as I am sure you can find them somewhere in my blog. After much prayer, contemplating and point blank advice from the interim pastor I decided to resign my position as associate/youth pastor at that church. I was allowed to attend one board meeting during my 8 years at that church. The last message I spoke there had to be approved by the board. Upon my resignation, I was asked to be the youth pastor at three different churches. One being at an A/G church in Germantown, WI another in Olathe, KS and of course, Waupaca. My wife and I decided on Waupaca since it was a new church and I would have a lot of freedom to do ministry. 

After accepting the position of youth pastor at Radiant Fellowship in the early part of 2004, this new congregation had its first Christmas service in December of 2013 inside the building that we now own. It was a trial run and apparently went well. I was still in Milwaukee for our Christmas Eve service. The church began meeting prior to that inside a home for quite some time. 

During the time of me being the youth pastor at Radiant Fellowship, my wife and I drove up to Waupaca each Sunday to attend church and to hold youth group at night. There were some weeks we would come up on Saturday and have to find our own housing. For some reason the kids pastor got to use the church funds to have a hotel room each week but Tracy and I were left to our own devices. We would attend church on Sunday morning and during those winter months we would sit in our car in the Ramada parking lot and read, etc. for hours until it was time for church in the evening since we met in someones home. No one offered for us to come over to their place to hang out from the time church let out until the evening. It wasn’t until early spring that my cousin offered for us to use her cabin just 5 miles outside of town. That was very much appreciated. 

Before moving to Waupaca in May of 2004 the youth group was growing along with the kids program run by our then kids pastor. The founding pastor of Radiant Fellowship was doing the best he could while fulfilling his duties in his other full time capacity. Many of his duties fell on me since I was willing to help him. I realize it should have been a red flag when the first Sunday we came up, he asked me to lead worship. It felt oddly like the church I just left where the youth pastor was asked to wear many hats leaving me to question, just what does the lead pastor do anyway?

In May of 2004 Tracy and I purchased our first home in Waupaca. It was then I could really sink my time and talents into the youth ministry. God began to grow the youth program exponentially through our ongoing outreaches. We saw the youth group go from 5 to 70 through our outreach events such as dodgeball, basketball, etc. Once again I found myself wearing many hats just like the last church. When the church needed a new paint job, it was I that sprayed the ceiling, painted the walls, etc. There were red flags everywhere for me. A shed in the backyard of the church needed to be torn down and somehow I was shanghai’d into doing that. The church was growing as well until sometime around June of 2005 when we were given bad news about our then lead pastor. Through a series of unfortunate events for the pastor, I was asked to become the interim pastor of Radiant Fellowship. In August of 2005 I was appointed by the Assemblies of God the new pastor of Radiant Fellowship. Growing up in a church where things were celebrated it was a bit odd for me that the then leadership did not do anything special for my first Sunday there. My first Sunday was met with disgruntled people and a church that was severely wounded. Tracy and I re-started Radiant Fellowship with 8 people a mortgage and a passion to see this church succeed. My first official Sunday was lack luster. I remember vividly me taking Tracy out to lunch and paying for it saying “yay us!”

During the time of being the pastor at Radiant Fellowship it should be understood that I never once attended a board meeting in the 8 years of being a youth pastor in Milwaukee. Wait, I take that back. I was allowed or rather was asked to attend one in the fall of 2003 only for the pastor to berate me with the board just sitting there. With no mentoring or teaching on how to be a lead pastor of a church…here I was in this new position in Waupaca. Radiant Fellowship was being supplemented by the Assembly of God district office and I was asked to attend a “church planters boot camp”. That decision confused me quite a bit since I did not plant the church but rather was asked to pastor it. Nonetheless I attended this class in Minneapolis and another in Green Lake. When I came back from these two events I was ready to finally hit the ground running. Radiant Fellowship was blessed to have a good leadership team at the time but sadly one of the first points of business I had to do was dismiss our kids pastor due to various reasons. 

During those early days it was clear we were in survival mode. As long as it was not illegal, immoral or sinful…we were going to do what we needed to do in order to stay afloat. We kept outreach the main thrust but knew we needed to grow as well in order to sustain this church. We did many things through our church that raised eyebrows and got people talking. I recall putting a 40’ tall inflatable elephant on our roof that had “National Porn Sunday” on it. It was a ministry of XXX Church and the theme was “Confronting the elephant in the pew”. Through different things like that we began to see growth. Slowly but surely we saw people coming regularly. Thanks to a few solid volunteers with our worship team and other ministries, we felt there was good forward progress.

As we progressed through the years 2009 brought with it one of our biggest changes when we hired a second music director after switching from our last one that did a good job. Once again we saw good growth as a result of this. Unfortunately with the growth we began stretching ourselves financially. We eventually got to the point where this little church needed to bring in about $1,800 per week to take care of salaries, utilities, etc. Each week was a struggle and with one of the appointed board members taking over the role of treasurer, it became evident this person was not qualified to do this. We were on the brink of financial ruin which left guest speakers unpaid (which later I found out about). I was not happy…in fact I was irate as it cost me some friendships. I made some changes and we have been in a good place ever since. Of course there are the weeks like any other church would cause you be bite your nails but God has always remained faithful. 

This church has fought for everything it has. It wasn’t until I became the pastor that I found out this church was not a welcome sight in our city. When I found that out and how it got started in a shady kind of way, I spoke with the then pastor of First Assembly of God in Waupaca. In fact the pastor and I were next door neighbors. I suggested we do a “pulpit swap” where he would speak at Radiant Fellowship and I at First A/G. It was so healing for both churches. I will never forget, the first words I spoke when I took the stage at that church was “I am sorry”. It was such an underhanded way Radiant Fellowship started that I wanted to acknowledge that.

To this day we still fight for what we have. I will admit as a kid that grew up in a very successful A/G church in Wauwatosa, WI. I (along with many other teens back in those days) looked at Waupaca through rose petaled glasses. I thought it was a big deal to be living in the same city as the Assembly of God district office and Spencer Lake Christian Center. To be in this city meant great things ahead and perhaps even some help with ministries we wanted to get going or needed help to get going. Again, I knew nothing about being a senior pastor so all the help I could get would be welcome. Those hopes quickly faded though when I began to notice Radiant Fellowship was going to be and will probably always remain to be “that church” in this city. People had us pegged as a lot of things which were not true. My rose petaled glasses quickly came off when I realized retired A/G people moving to the area and those being hired to fulfill roles were not going to be attending either. Any help I was hoping for has and continues to be just a thought…perhaps a dream. I have my own thoughts about this but at the end of the day I get it. I was not part of a graduating class at North Central University (where all good A/G kids go) which means I have no deep ties. Sure, I was in the first graduating class of an experimental inner city Milwaukee Bible college (UBTC) but that recognition was about on par with a degree from a tech school verses a university. I could do the same thing as everyone else but was not with that “in crowd”. Instead we get a random visit from these people and usually it is met with a critique because we are different. 

I have been hoping for trailblazers and those wanting to help but like the one family that recently left, they said “we are leaving because we want life groups”. I simply cannot take on another thing at this church but if people like the one I just mentioned would stick around…and help…we could have life groups.

I am so thankful how far this church has come since it’s difficult start. We are blessed with some solid people that love God and love serving. I look with great anticipation to all of the things that are in store for this church.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Multiple Sclerosis and Miracles

Miracles. The very word can conjure up a myriad of thoughts in Christian circles. For some, miracles are something that we read of in Scripture over and over and are left there. Other people have experienced them or know of someone close to them that have. Yet there remains a handful…okay a large handful of Christians that don’t believe in them or rather try to rationalize other explanations as to a healing that took place…allow me to explain. 

Time and time again throughout Scripture we read of miracles taking place. Some that come to mind right off the top include Lazarus, Jesus making the blind see, the issue of the woman bleeding, the crippled man at the gate beautiful and there seems to be one other….um…..wait for it….the resurrection of Jesus! That is just a short list of miracles. There are so many more throughout that we can read about. With this sort of thing being a regular occurrence throughout scripture, why do many Christians doubt today? I realize there will always be doubters. Fact is many can resonate with the father in Mark 9:24 who said “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” 

In March of 2015 my world was flipped upside down by a diagnosis I never thought I would receive. My neurologist told me that my MRI came back with irregularities. After finding five lesions, he diagnosed with me relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. Once word got out about these findings, I was barraged with many people saying they will be praying for me. I recall one church service where many came up to lay hands on me as they prayed for my healing. Since that time I have been diagnosed with hemochromatosis which is an issue with iron. I also suffered (and survived) a brain hemorrhage in 2018. Through it all though I have learned to lean on God and the support of others.

As 2018 came to an end I had one last neurology appointment on December 31st. In that meeting we talked about many different things and towards the end my doctor said “you do not have multiple sclerosis”. I was taken back a bit…even shocked at the news. My wife and I looked at each other and needed some clarification. He gave it to us and I must admit that I was in some disbelief but so thankful as well. All I could think of was a miracle just took place. Perhaps my mom put in a good word face to face with God ha ha ha (hey…doesn’t hurt to have an imagination). What I was met with in the wake of that news is what I found to be perplexing. 

Over the years I have seen many miracles take place. From a friend coming back from the dead in front of my eyes in an ICU to someone we prayed for in South Africa over Skype. She was completely healed of cancer. There have been countless others as well that I don’t have room to list. In any case I found it interesting how many people asked me if the neurologist misdiagnosed me. This is his profession and the layout of the lesions in the MRI was the classic pattern for MS. Why is it when God does something profound, we back down from our faith and try to rationalize it in the natural? It’s as if we forget that this is part of what God does. With that many people praying for a healing, our faith should do a backflip when these things happen. It should build our faith. Many know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I wonder how many know them as a miracle worker?

I know for me I have had a new spring in my step. Two weeks ago I was sledding with 20+ kids and I would challenge many to a race UP the hill. We ran so much while inside I was shouting hallelujah each time. I can picture my mom ecstatic as well with my news. For many though, they hear news like this and say “that’s nice” and move on. Me? I resonate with the words my mom would sing each time she experienced God’s hand in her life…she would sing “Look what the Lord has done!” 

We ought not be surprised when God does the miraculous in our lives. Celebrate and give God the praise.