Just to be connected with somebody and feel that—no matter how far it takes or how much time it involves…
There is a place where we all belong.
Everybody who belongs…
Everybody else belongs.
But there are people in this world…
Who spend their lives wishing for one thing…
To find someone they can belong to…
To find somewhere where they belong.
And when they do find that someone AND that somewhere—there is no greater comfort in knowing—they finally belong!
I went to visit Rich and Kristin and their children Emma and Cohen.
They live about a hundred miles away—Bella and I love to drive—okay, so she drives, and I ride along.
Rich and Kristin mean a lot to us—it one Saturday, February 14th, 2015—yes, that would be Valentine’s Day…
When the most beautiful wedding scene I have ever witnessed happened.
There was this Central Park in Winter Park, Florida—around 2pm on a sunny day filled with families playing catch and tag in the Central Park.
Until a bride—on her way to her wedding—walked thru the middle of the park and…everyone stopped and gazed at the beautiful bride!
Kristin was that bride- Rich was that groom- I was that preacher performing the ceremony!
So…we are invested in them as a couple and as a family.
We had a great afternoon of just catching up with everyone. They have two remarkable children- both of them are gifted in their own right.
It was a pleasure talking with both Emma and Cohen—on their level—on what mattered to them—just connecting to them.
As we started to leave—I asked to pray for this family.
We gathered in a circle and I started to pray, but before I did…
I reminded Rich where he was 5 years ago.
You see…5 years ago, Rich was in New Hampshire, dealing with a lot of baggage—and not living happily ever after.
I reminded him that MySandy, his stepmom, called me and said “I have to find my husband’s son—I don’t know how but I know I have to. We found each other so maybe I can find Rich the same way—through FaceBook!”
And 3 weeks later—she had located Rich and confirmed that he was the son of her husband—they had not seen each other in 20 years.
A month later—Rich came for a visit to meet his Dad—it was Sandy who picked Rich up from the airport—they had talked a lot in that last month.
Visit went well—2 weeks later—Rich was moving from New Hampshire into Sandy and his Dad’s house.
And that was 5 years ago.
During that time, Rich met a girl named Kristin, who had a son and a daughter—Cohen and Emma!
The two of them fell in love—the four of them became a family.
Two years ago—I connected those four as a family when I officiated those two becoming a couple.
And the young man who was “NOT” living happily ever after in New Hampshire 5 years ago—
Is now the happiest man on the face of the earth—over worked and sleep deprived maybe—but still…
Happily ever after is now where Rich lives.
And I looked at him and said—“Rich, look around…5 years ago—you didn’t know where you belonged in this world…
You just didn’t know that God had a plan and place and that your “Belong” was waiting for you in Ocala, Florida.
But finally…you have a home, you have a wife, you have a family—you belong here!”
And we all cried a little—joy can do that to you!
The Word says “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper, to have an expected end…”
I waited a few days to write this...wanted to make sure I grabbed the essence of the moment.
Remember when I wrote about boycotting the NFL this year – because of the players taking a knee during the national anthem?
I just had enough—and I said “I boycott you!”
I am the first person to defend anyone’s right to boycott and peacefully protest—it’s our greatest right—to free speech!
So…even if I don’t agree with what you are saying—I salute your right to express yourself.
However, 2 things I don’t ever want to get political—when I go to church and when I watch football.
And when Colin Kapernik first took a knee, I was like “that’s kind of inappropriate while the national anthem is playing!”
But then everyone started saying “he is protesting what is going on with black lives matter and the racial injustices in our nation!”
And I thought “okay, you have every right to stand by kneeling for something you believe in, but…you are at work, and…
If I can’t protest at my job, you can’t protest at yours. If you are really committed to your cause, quit your job, call in sick, and
Stand outside and carry your placard stating what you are protesting—fair is fair—if I can’t protest on my job, you can’t protest on yours!”
Well…as is usual in my life—I announced my boycott of NFL – and a few people stood with me—but most?
Most just kept watching.
So…it’s been the first year of my adult life that I have not watched a single football game all season long.
And it is also the first year of my adult life that I don’t know who is going to the superbowl—well, I know now!
All of that, just to bring home my point…conversation—how it cannot ever be replaced by texts or emojis !
We were at dinner Saturday night, and our waiter was Tony.
Tony was a very pleasant African American young man.
We exchanged pleasantries throughout the night.
My wife always asks me why I must ask their name, address them by their name, engage in light discussion.
I tell her “hey, they are handling my food—I want them to play nice!”
And…I love to exchange thoughts and experiences with complete strangers—I have learned so much from strangers—very interesting!
So we ask Tony what he is doing for the superbowl.
He starts telling us that he originally didn’t have plans but then Tuesday, he got a call from an old friend. Then Wednesday, his roommate said “we should have a superbowl party. Then on Thursday, his Sunday School teacher invited him to a church superbowl party where he could bring his old friend AND his roommate.
Then he asked “what are y’all doing for the superbowl?”
I thought for a moment, “Do I dare chance this opportunity to exchange possibly diametrically opposing views with a complete stranger?”
Then I said “ahhh! Why not?”
And I started with why I have been boycotting the NFL and why I won’t be watching the superbowl this year!
After I completed my diatribe—replete with “I would join Colin outside the stadium and carry a sign for him!” statements,
I even reminded Tony that I understood the need to protest against injustices—but there’s a peaceful appropriate place to do it.
I also commented that I know “Colin would never intend for people to think that he is disrespecting our military or our flag!”
But unfortunately, his message has been sullied by the inferences of others that have angered a nation.
I ended with “Tony, I would never want to offend anyone, including you, but I just thought you and I could have a conversation- a hard one, yes…
But a meaningful positive conversation, nonetheless!”
Tony smiled at me and said words that I think I will always remember for as long as I live.
Tony said “it was all in your tone—your tone made the difference in how I received your message—I could hear your heart in your tone!”
We shook hands and wished each other well.
And I have thought about what Tony said for the past 4 days—“it’s was all in your tone!”
That’s what I want us all to get from this chance encounter with an Italian American and an African American.
We can have those hard conversations IF we use the right tone.
And…it takes a person to person exchange of ideas, a dialog, not a monologue—to engage a change that will positively affect our nation.
Also reason why – texting and Facebook entries will NOT make this change for us because ---you can misinterpret tone in ALL CAPS!
So I challenge you—start a conversation that may have a difficult emotional topic, but…with the right tone, it could be received well.
And remember—the Bible says “Be Ye KIND—one to another!”
Yes—I meant to capitalize the word KIND--- because who can ever have a bad tone while being kind?