Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Top 10 moments of 2012

I got the idea of doing a top 10 list from Jennifer. If you haven’t done one, I encourage to do so.  It’s a nice way to look back at the past year to remember God’s faithfulness.  It’s also helpful to illuminate and remember the bright spots of the year as opposed to the darker stretches.

2012 really sucked for me.  Yet at the same time it was one of the best years of my life.  The year was filled with so much despair and disappointment yet as we round into 2013 I’ve never been more filled with hope.  I’m a walking, living, breathing dichotomy.  How can a person be so down yet be on top of the world at the same time?  I guess that’s where my faith, and the peace that passes all understanding comes in.  My secret weapon is my faith, “Where all things work together for good for those who believe and are called according to His Purpose.” (Romans 8:28). That’s the difference between happiness and joy.  Circumstances dictate my happiness and the moments are fleeting.  Yet Joy is the constant.  Throughout every storm that 2012 threw my way I never lost my peace nor my joy.  I don’t know how it works psychologically, I just know that it does.  Its like when you are standing out in a driving rainstorm and you are dry under an umbrella.  You should be drenched but something is protecting you.  If everyone could experience the peace that I feel even in the midst of blazing inferno’s of life, then everyone would want to be a believer in Christ.  I guess what holds people back is they are not willing to take that first step to jump into the pool, unless they are forced.  But once you jump in, you realize that water feels great. 

I could go into detail about everything that went wrong in 2012, but I've heard it said that 80% of the people you talk to don’t care about your problems and the other 20% are glad you have them.  But let me synopsize.  I thought I had a dream job lined up in May.  This is what I thought God had been preparing me for my whole life.  Yet just a few weeks before production was to commence we suddenly lost funding.  Our project was pushed back to at least 2013 and maybe even further.  The sudden unemployment set off a chain of events and created circumstances that were very difficult to deal with.  While I never lost my peace, I had a responsibility as a husband to ensure my wife maintained her peace as well. With me not providing the security (something that every woman deserves and craves) it was difficult for Jennifer to have the same peace that I had.  How can you transfer your own faith onto someone else?  Other than leading by example, I’m not sure how to do that.  Men like to fix things, and I was suddenly thrust into a situation where I couldn’t fix it.  Instead I found myself at the mercy of God, helpless and dependent.  I think that was the point of this lesson from Him all along.  God saw us through every emotional and financial storm. It might not have been the way Jennifer or I would have chosen him to see us through, but He saw us through nonetheless.  I’m a little bit older and more experienced in this walk of faith than my young bride.  I guess that’s a by product of the Hell I endured and overcame from 2005-2009.  But that’s probably why I’m in her life to show her by example how to have complete and utter reliance on Jehovah Jireh “Our Provider.”  Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor they spin.  Seek First the Kingdom of God and his Righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.  So this past year when the wheels fell off the bus and I was face down in the mud, I did just that.  By Seeking First everything seemed to have worked out with the full culmination about to happen in 2013.  God is Faithful. 

Now onto the list. 

#10  Trivia Tuesday. 
I took about 5 months off from this as I thought I was leaving the country.  When the realization hit that I was staying, I slowly made my way back to this.  It’s the same group of Jennifer’s friends (I kind of took over for her) that has been meeting in various pubs playing Pub trivia for years.  I don’t drink, so I just go and have water or copious refills of Diet Coke.  Getting a few questions right (My expertise areas are Film and Sports) helps me feel a little better about all this useless knowledge running around in my head.  It makes it feel useful.  Plus I just love competition.  Some are there for the social/drinking aspect, I’m there to win.    

 #9  Driving to Houston and Back in 57 hours
I know this seems a little crazy to put on a top 10 list, but this was something that needed to be done and I’m proud of the way it happened so quickly.  I have a home in Houston that I kept some furniture in for my renters.  Jennifer and I decided to give the responsibility of managing the house over to a management company, so I needed to get all my stuff out. The beauty of this is that I had a week open up in my schedule where it would be convenient to do this.  I rented a pretty reasonably priced cargo van from Enterprise and off I went.  I had an air mattress I slept on, on the way out, somewhere in Alabama I think.  Really the mission was all about getting my prized orange recliner chair back.  This chair I purchased in Taiwan and we had it shipped around the world back to us.  It’s Italian leather.  It’s oversized so my boys and I used to sit in it and watch movies together when they were little.  It’s very sentimental to me.  Once I arrived in Houston my friend Kevin helped me load as much stuff in it as possible.  It turns out I had a lot of stuff.  What I couldn't fit, I told him he could keep or throw out.  Loading only took 2 hours and I was back on the road.  I got sleepy in Georgia on the way back but still made it back in 57 hours.  I felt like the Road Warrior.  Maybe I should have been a trucker. 

#8 Trips to the Park with Sloan and Ellie

Ellie, our dog, loves to run and exercise.  I wasn't exercising her enough and she was pooping everywhere that she wasn't supposed to be.  Since then, I've been taking her to the park regularly this has thankfully stopped.  I try to go once a week at least, and went today as a matter of fact.  Ellie gets very excited even when we say the word park.  Once she recognizes where we are driving she goes bananas.  I take the tennis racket and tennis ball and walk to a large clearing with Sloan.  Then I hit the ball as hard as I can and Ellie tears after it.  I’m trying to wear her out quickly.  After about 20 minutes of this she is spent.  While we’re doing this Sloan explores the leaves, trees, and dirt and just enjoys being outside.  Today she just lied down on the grass to look up at the trees and the clouds.  I laid down next to her.  What a neat a beautiful perspective I had laying down next to my daughter staring up into the heavens.  Those are the types of moments that leave a permanent imprint on your psyche.  Within a minute or so, she got restless then we rolled down the hill together as I cradled her in my arms.  After Ellie was pooped, we made it to the playground for Sloan.  I usually tie Ellie to a bench then do the swings, slide and jungle gym with Sloan. 

#7 Holidays with Jennifer and her Family
I am fortunate that I really enjoy Jennifer’s family.  Since I went roughly 5 years (through my divorce) without my own family I’m finding that I’m craving these family get togethers ever more-so now.  I think I appreciate these times more now as I no longer take them for granted. 
 #6 Dollar Movies on Friday, Taking Sloan to see Madagascar

I work a Sunday through Thursday shift at the moment and that mean my days off are Fri-Sat.  It sucks because I can’t go to church with Jennifer and need to find my community elsewhere.  I download podcasts of sermons and read the Bible every day.  So even though I’m not attending a service my spiritual walk is growing.  I have a routine on Friday of cleaning the house then having lunch at the dollar movie.  Money is tight so as much as I like going to see movies, I cannot justify the expense.  It only took about 4-5 months but now every Friday is like a new release at the theater for me.  I took Sloan one weekend and we went to see Madagascar 3.  I had taken her to two others but it didn't hold her attention.  This one did.  I think it was combination of the colors and music.  She was transfixed on my lap and her eyes on the screen the whole time.  I have always enjoyed taking my kids to see movies. 

 #5 World Shakers
This is a curious choice here as it wound up to be my biggest disappointment as well.  World Shakers was my dream job.  We would have taken 12 people from around the world to go on a 40 day missions trip in South Africa.  I was so stoked about this.  Yet two weeks before I was about to move down to Florida we lost our funding.  It was a heartbreaking setback.  Yet I know that God had a plan for bringing this project in and then closing the door.  I’m just trusting Him that He knows better than me.   Hopefully World Shakers will get its funding in 2013.  We’ll just have to wait and seek.  I have to go by faith that God purposefully shut down this project for His greater purpose.  Who knows, maybe a tragedy was averted. 

 #4 Working at Lizard Lick
Shortly after the World Shakers postponement.  I found myself unemployed.  I wasn't unemployed for long as I found that there was a reality TV show that was in production about 30 min. from home.  The show is Lizard Lick Towing on TruTV. www.lizardlicktowing.com  While working there has had its ups and downs I’m glad to have a job.  The show is simply a phenomenon that no one can really explain.  It’s kind of like a reality version of the Dukes of Hazard.  I've been fortunate to meet and interact with our fans that come to see us from all over the country, literally.  I put a US map up a few months back and we've had visitors from all 50 states since then.  We just started airing in Australia and the South is blowing up down there.  While this might not be my dream job yet, I’m so thankful to be employed. 

#3 Renewed Intimacy with Jennifer, struggles brought us closer together.
As I mention that 2012 has been difficult financially, the bonus is that it has brought Jennifer and I closer together.  I am seeing a level of spiritual maturity in her that I've never seen before.  It’s cool to see her faith grow.  We are a team through this and this is the silver lining in the cloud.  She’s my teammate and supporter.  We know we’ll get through this and be the stronger people as a result.  I hate to use the word Soul Mate, because I've only heard it used in people’s second or third marriages.  Maybe it’s a way to justify or bring more credibility to a relationship.  But I can honestly say, that Jennifer and I were made for each other.  We fit together like two very complex pieces of an intricate puzzle.  I have often used the metaphor of the sports car for our relationship.  I chose the high performance, high maintenance model while I could’ve had the low maintenance low performance model.  So when the car breaks down, do I blame the car or look in the mirror at the mechanic.  Fortunately Jennifer is turning from a Jaguar into a Ferrari as our relationship continues to have less and less breakdowns.  I’m a lucky guy. 

#2 Summer visit with the Boys
I love spending time with my children from Texas.  I’ll just leave it at that. 

#1 Hawaii and seeing Kristen. 

My parents were planning on going to Hawaii and they invited us along. All we had to do was pay for food and airfare.   What a great way for Sloan to get to spend time with her grandparents. Going to Hawaii from California is pretty simple.  Going from North Carolina, is entirely different story.  Going to Europe from NC is shorter.  Sloan was 10 months old and wrestling with her on the plane was a task in and of itself.  Jennifer did most of the work, I just pitched in when needed. We stopped over in California to visit my sister Kristen and her new baby Bailey for a few nights before continuing onto Hawaii. We had a great time there with plenty of memories.  One other thing, Babies don’t respond well to time changes initially.  There was a six hour difference so there were many morning Sloan woke up 4 am, thinking that it was play time.  I tried to explain to her about the time difference but I don’t think she cared. 
All in all, 2012 was great because I have the peace that passes all understanding with me throughout every trial that came my way.  I know that the doors will open big and brighter in 2013.  We are just being set up for a comeback. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What I think Love is

This is the third part in a series where I am examining my life in detail.  This is in part to evaluate my past so I can learn from my mistakes as well as give me hope for the future.  I have answered who am I? and What have I done?  Now I will examine marriage and relationships. 

I was very fortunate to grow up in a God fearing home.  I understand that I won the genetic lottery as I lived a very privileged life growing up.  I didn’t really appreciate all the blessings that I had, and I don’t think many kids do.  For me it was just normal.  I think if you have a healthy childhood, no matter how you grow up, rich or poor that is normal to you.  I have taken many parenting classes over the years.  I have surmised from these several things.  But the principal thing is unity for a parent.  The most important aspect of being a mother or a father is for the husband to love the wife and likewise.  This will give the child amazing security.  All the rest, discipline, provisions, schooling, is all secondary.  The child needs the comfort of knowing that mom and dad are going to stick together.  If they have that then all the rest can naturally develop.

Now I was fortunate that my parents grew up in another generation.  The baby boomer generation.  This is the era where getting divorce was a shameful thing and discouraged in society.  Today it is so commonplace for people to give up easily and get divorced.  Not happy? Change the scenery and get divorced.  Our fast food society has equated relationships into drive through convenience.  What many people don’t realize is the psychological and emotional holocaust that Divorce is.  I have yet to meet a person that says, my divorce was great.  If they say so, they are lying.  I guess I rail against this concept so much so other people can learn from the pain and struggle of my mistakes. I am embarrassed at the fact that I had to go through a divorce.  I hate how it has affected my kids.  But I couldn’t control that.   

So back to the positivity.  My parents stayed together 49 years and counting.  That is the greatest gift they could have given me.  There was never a question in my mind, would mom and dad stick together?  Just that provided the strong basis for a happy childhood for me.  Not that there relationship was perfect, far from it.  Mom would sometimes yell at my dad for doing things which she didn’t approve of.  My dad would just be quiet and take it.  Upon reflection, my marriage has become just like that.  It’s amazing to me how children replicate either knowingly or unknowingly the behavior that was modeled for them. 

I have made a a few mistakes in my life.  The fortunate thing about that is that God has used those mistakes to propel me forward.  I have become pretty good at learning from mistakes.  I want to examine history, as I do through this blog, so I can use my past as a positive force in moving forward.  Though it is important not to dwell too much on the past.  It’s like when you drive.  Look at the size difference between the rear view mirror and the front windshield.  The rear view mirror is a fraction of the size windshield.  If you spend too much time looking in the rear view mirror you might miss your turn off or worse yet crash.  So it is important to keep a healthy balance glancing at the past but keeping your focus ahead of you.  If I would have bemoaned my past too much I would have missed the incredible opportunities that God had for me in the future.  Like Joel Osteen always says, “Don’t concentrate on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have.”  I think that is one of the key ingredients to contentment. 

My marriage isn’t perfect because my wife and I are both imperfect people.  It seems like everyone else has a perfect marriage because we only look at the outside veneer.  Its easy to put on a happy face so no one seems to notice what is deep inside.  Why do we do that?  Why is it when we ask each other, How are you? The response is usually, great, or pretty good when we often don’t mean it.  When I have a bad day sometimes, when people ask me how I am, I will say, pretty darn sucky, or I’m having a really bad day.  It is funny to see their reactions because 90% of them will be caught off guard.  They were only offering a pleasantry, because for the most part they don’t really care how I am doing.  The look of immediate panic on their face is quite amusing.  They don’t know how to react when it becomes too personal.    But I try not to do that too much.  So more often that not, I’ll just reply with a simple, fine thank you.  That’s the thing with most people.  Most people don’t care how you are.  They are concerned with numero uno.  Unless of course is if how you are doing directly or indirectly affects them, then they might take a vested interest.  I know there are exceptions to this rule especially in the church, but I think that this is generally true. 

OK, so back to my marriage.  Having had a failed and a successful marriage I think I have garnered the keys to a good relationship.  The key is being self-less.  As soon as you start thinking about what you deserve out of your marriage, then you are in trouble.  The more “I” that you dwell on, the more unhappy you will become.  God has taught me this over and over the past two years of my marriage.  He spoke to me very clearly.  I am supposed to get my affirmation and sense of self-worth from Him and not be reliant upon my wife for that.  When I do that, my marriage is a beautiful thing.  I take the focus off of myself and my needs. I look to God to fulfill that part of me which he always does.  When this happens it is easier for me mentally to be a blessing to my wife.  This in turn helps her be less selfish and be more of a blessing to me.  Then it becomes a perpetual cycle (and the sex is better too).  Can a Christian say that?  I guess I just did.  The key to a healthy relationship when two people can continuously be self-less.  That is why its so important to have God be a part of the relationship.  Having God gets the focus even further off of self.  The saying is a three strand cord is not easily broken.  I think God designed marriage to be this way.  He created us so that we could have peace and joy be the hallmarks of our life.  He didn’t design us to be miserable which is what some marriages can become.  I have seen heaven on earth and I have seen hell all through the eyes of marriage.  My marriage becomes hellish when I become more selfish.  So when do I become more selfish? Usually it revolves around if I have sin in my life.  Part of the guilt that I experience compels me to cast blame to anywhere but myself. It’s almost impossible to look in the mirror when this happens.  I have also found that when I am in a sinful state I naturally become more self-centered.  I deserve better than this, I deserve to be treated in a different way etc. Then I will usually try to justify my selfish action blaming others for it.   When I become this way that naturally leads to conflict with my wife.  Then it is a perpetual cycle in the negative way.  Marriage is like an engine really, you have to work to maintain it, so it will run smoothly.  I have mentioned before in this blog that my wife is like a Ferrari.  It’s a lot of work to maintain a high performance sports car, but when you do, the performance is unparalleled.  Now I could have easily chosen a Hyundai, dependable low maintenance but doesn’t excel in the performance category.  This is not to bemoan my choice of mates, because I would choose my wife a thousand times over.  I know she was the one that was destined for me, yet even created for me.  But I knew of this maintenance thing before we got married.  I knew exactly what I was getting into and I willingly signed up for it. I knew it would be hard work but I knew that she would be worth it.   Now when our marriage, or the Ferrari hits a few bumps I can do one of two things.  I can either blame the car, or I can blame myself for not properly taking care of the car.  If I want to have a happy marriage, I need to look at the mechanic not the vehicle.  When this happens I can more objectively fix the car by first fixing the mechanic.  The car won’t be fixed by me yelling at it to get better.  I have to work at it.  Sometimes it’s a lot of work if I haven’t been properly maintaining it, or sometimes it’s a quick and easy tune up.  So the onus is upon me to make this work.  When the Ferrari is running properly which it usually is, life in a high performance vehicle is a blast.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Another metaphor I have heard is that a wife is like a rose.  It’s the husband’s responsibility to make sure that she blooms.  That also means a husband needs to put up with a lot of fertilizer (crap) in order to help that flower bloom. 

Right now in my life I feel very fortunate.  This marriage has been a lot of work.  But every relationship is a lot of work.  We deceive ourselves if we think its going to be easy.  Why is it hard work though?  Its hard because our natural desire is to be selfish.  So all the hard work comes from fighting against that nature.  The more we can be self-less in a relationship the more harmony there will be. This is another reason why children are such a blessing.  Kids are an easy and natural way for us to take the focus off ourselves and place it on them.  I am convinced that the meaning of life and the secret of happiness is found in this precept.  If we keep the focus off ourselves which is our natural inclination then that opens the door to peace, joy and contentment.  That is how God designed it all to be. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What have I done.

This is the second part of a multiple series delving into self-examination and evaluation.  I never want to grow stagnant in my spiritual walk nor my personal development.  By looking back at both my failures and the successes I hope to learn from the past to not repeat negative behaviors.  God’s blessings upon reflection also serve to propel me forward to even greater heights.  I believe my best days are still ahead of me.  Starting at ground zero or rock bottom in 2007 with the loss of my family, I can honestly say each year has been better than the last.  With 2011 bringing the birth of my child and a marriage where we are both on the same continent, it was my best year ever.  There is no reason for that not to continue in perpetuity as long as I remain faithful. 

What I have done. 
From as far back as I can remember I always found the most fulfillment in being creative.  Even as I child I loved performing as that offered me a tangible outlet in creating. I knew I always wanted to be involved with media as it fascinated me.  It wasn’t until college when I took a creative writing course that my passion really exploded. It was at this point that my emphasis shifted into wanting to be a part of creating media rather than just reporting or acting upon/in it.  I was heavily involved with student politics through high school and college.  I won every election I ever ran for and I loved being in leadership positions as it befitted what I thought my natural talents were.  I felt that since I was so good at making speeches and figuratively kissing babies that I was destined for a career in politics.  That all change in 1989 with two very momentous life changing events.  The first is I went to see a movie called Cry Freedom at the Kabuki theater in San Francisco with my father.  I was so moved by this compelling story from Sir Richard Attenborough about the life of Steven Biko and South African apartheid that I wrote the South African Consulate. (I got follow up letters for years from the consulate)  God spoke to me distinctly through that film.  I have since come to learn that God speaks to us through our passions.  I thought if this film so motivated, inspired, and educated me then I want to be part of this medium.  I want to learn all about it so I could use its power to influence the world for the good.  I want to use it spread my worldview as I believe my worldview is the truth.   Those plans were temporarily put on hold because in my 20 year old mind had to go into politics because I was so go gifted at it, or so I told myself. I thought my path was inevitable.  Man plans his way but God directs his steps it says in Proverbs.  I’ve found that God will let you make your own choices unless He has another very specific plan for your life.  Then a door will close and you will be directed through the path where he ultimately wants you to go.  That happened to me in a very difficult and life changing way.  I was student government president of my college in my Junior year.  I thought I was very good at it.  As I ran for re-election, I lost.  I didn’t just lose, but I got obliterated.  Here I went from being the big man on campus to a nobody (in my mind) overnight.  I was absolutely emotionally and psychologically devastated.  In that moment God used my despair to essentially say “Screw Politics” I am making movies.  It wasn’t a 180 degree career shift, it was more like I veered off to a 90 degree angle since I was a Journalism major already.   My senior year I threw myself into my studies of communication and that led directly to me getting a job at the local ABC affiliate as a weekend assignment desk editor.  To have this position as a student was a real coup.  But even then God used the situation.  Being in news the idea is to attempt to be objective.  I don’t want to be objective, I want to influence people and the way they think.  For me it was all about subjectivity rather than objectivity.  I turned down a promotion and went to film school to obtain my Master’s degree.  It was there that my career was even further defined.  For my thesis I wrote a screenplay.  It was writing this screenplay that I discovered my most fulfillment.  I decided to go to Los Angeles to set the world on fire with my screenplays. 

Then something strange happened.  I made it to Los Angeles and I didn’t find immediate success.  I thought that film was my calling and God was on my side.  It just didn’t work like that.  From a very early age I always felt that God was going to use me to change the world.  In my mind I was confused why it wasn’t happening right away.  As a way of providing for the family I suspended my full time job of writing scripts and did various jobs in the entertainment industry.  I was a talent agency courier, a promotions manager at a syndication company, an office manager at a product placement agency, a marketing manager at the same syndication company.  All this time I was actively writing and shopping my feature film screenplays.  I had written eleven of the course of this time, with four pretty good and one excellent in my mind.  Ultimately my career path led me to become a writer-producer-director of various biographies and documentaries.  It was the last job that brought me the most fulfillment.  While I didn’t reach my goal of writing and directing feature films (I did come awfully close several times to selling those elusive screenplays) I still was creating.  In hindsight God was protecting me.  If I would have found immediate success all those accomplishments would have gone to my head.  I was not the character yet that God wanted me to be.  I had to be broken first by going through His refining fire.  I ultimately was broken again in a another very dramatic way (see personal testimony).  I left Los Angeles in 2001 in part to try to save my failing marriage.  When I left LA, I was extremely wounded psychologically and emotionally.  I felt like I was a failure very similar to the feelings I had when I lost the election.  It was at this point that I surrendered myself completely to God.  There would be no more compromises as I endeavored to be the best Christian, father, and husband that I could be.  I moved to Tulsa and became a writer for a Christian production company.  That job lasted only nine months as I was the first of many layoffs as the company downsized to lay off nearly 90% off their employees.  Again I was wondering where God was in the midst of my career.  Why was I struggling so much?  I went to work as a customer service rep for Cingular Wireless (now AT&T) making $9 and hour.  For a guy with as many dreams and aspirations I had this was difficult.  Finally in a very dramatic way, we as a family were called away to go Taiwan as missionaries.  Not making much money, not having any saved up, we were totally dependent upon God for His provisions. I had never lived week to week like that before.   God was faithful and he didn’t disappoint.  Instead of comparing myself and trying to keep up with the Joneses, I felt as if I had enough.  I was content with all the provisions that God had for me.  It was then that Paul’s “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” really took hold.  After we left Taiwan begrudgingly because of SARS, we came back to California where I worked for a church.  I so enjoyed this position of writing, directing and editing promotional videos that were used in the services.  Of all the positions I’ve ever had, this was the most fulfillment that I ever received because I was directly doing God’s work.  Then another definitive door closed and only one remained open.  It was very clear that God was calling me back to the mission field again this time to Saudi Arabia to work as a writer for an oil company.  Only I didn’t want to go.  I prayed and I prayed that God would find another way because I didn’t want to leave my beloved family.  My then wife and I fervently prayed about it and asked for a sign.  But I wanted a clear sign the size of a billboard. That was my fleece.  God had given us these definitive signs before when we went to Taiwan.  The very next day after this fervent prayer with my then wife at church the entire message was based on Matthew 19:29 “If any man leaves his mother and his father his wife and his land and his children and travels into a foreign land for My sake he will receive a thousand-fold blessing.”  As much as I didn’t want to hear it, it was clear to both my then wife and I that God wanted me to go to the Middle East.   I still tried every which way to get out of it, but every door remained closed and only this one remained open.  I reasoned to myself that despite God’s call, this was my way to give back to my then wife.  I was not able to provide enough financial security throughout my career that a wife deserves.  This was my way of tangibly making up for it.  So I felt that my year of sacrifice could make up for years of financial instability.  How very wrong I was.  In an ironic twist the greatest gift I thought I could give to my then wife in my mind was money.  But my time away ultimately ended my marriage as she decided she did not want a life with me anymore.  God used even this very dark time in my life to again propel me forward towards His will.  My reliance upon Him was strengthened innumerably.    I have felt a reliance upon him and found an intimacy that I had never experienced. 

Now I mention this because it had a definitive impact on my career.  Instead of seeing my self-worth through the eyes of my then wife (who didn’t think very highly of me) I started viewing myself as a child of the King.  I started believing in myself not because who I was, but rather who’s I was.  By believing in Christ in me, I was able to believe in myself again.  The day after that my (very unwanted) divorce became final I got two really big contracts for work.  The timing was God’s way of telling me that He had my back.    Since that point my career has taken off.  Perhaps not financially, but emotionally and psychologically.  (I have to be careful with what I write here because my ex wife reads this blog faithfully).  God called me back to the Middle East in a very dramatic way.  It was strange how this all worked.  For that time period of 2007-present, whenever I lost a job for various reasons, I found another within 24 hours.  This happened three straight times.  I’m convinced that God’s hand is now distinctly upon my career. 

I blogged about these times extensively, but let me quickly review.  I went to Bahrain to be the General Manager of a production company.  What an incredible experience that was. I feel so lucky and blessed to have experienced this.  In just under two years, I have a lifetime of memories.  I got out of Bahrain about six months before the revolts started happening, which again is part of God’s divine protection upon my life.  Then I wound up in Dubai trying to start up a production company there.  Things were going swimmingly as I felt like I was on top of the world.  I had remarried to a beautiful girl, we were blessed with her pregnancy, and she got permission to keep her job and transfer to Dubai to be with me.  But I felt the distinct call to go back to the US.  I got an offer to return to work for her company (SAS, who just so happened to be voted the #1 company to work for by Forbes magazine.) the same day serious questions were raised with my company in Dubai.    It was God’s perfect plan that led me back the US.  Jennifer had problems with her pregnancy.  If we would have still been in the Middle East, we wouldn’t have had health insurance and the bills would have been astronomical.  Im not sure if it would have affected the health of mom or the baby but it was nice to be on the safe side.  Who could tell this was coming anyway? Well God knew and it was part of his divine plan to keep me safe.  That brings us to today.  My contract expires with my company in one month.  Am I worried?  Not at all.   I know that God has seen me through every conflict within the last 10 years because I am living my life right.  There is absolutely no reason why He won’t come through again.  Just seeing His faithfulness historically in my life gives me an abundance of faith knowing he will come through this time and every other time in the future as well.  I guess this is what Faith is all about. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Who I am.

I am doing this exercise with my men’s group at church.  The purpose behind it is to take an honest valuation of who you are right at this very moment.  It is so hard to be self-aware sometimes especially if we don’t like some of the things we see in the mirror.  So many of us live in denial.  It might not be full denial but partial.  We can all justify our actions.  I remember watching an old Maury Povich show where they were interviewing a murderer.  The killer admits that he murdered the guy.  But it wasn’t the murderer’s fault you see, at least in his mind.  The victim shouldn’t have been standing on the corner that day.  So in the murderer’s mind it was the other’s guy’s fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We all justify our actions. That is why it says in Proverbs that “A man’s ways is right in his own eyes, but God weighs the heart.”  We can put on a full mask or partial and we can present a character of ourselves to our family, friends, associates, co-workers.  Sometimes that mask is absolutely genuine, other times we cover up parts of ourselves that we want to remain private.  We can lie subtly to others and eventually we may start even believing the lies ourselves altering our own perceptions of reality.  It is revisionist personal history that leads to denial, which leads to delusion.  The further along we go along that treacherous path the more we lose focus of reality.  Its so easy to justify everything in our lives.  I think I try to take the opposite road of this.  Do you have five minutes?  I’ll tell you everything that is wrong with me.  Not literally, but I try to be very forthright as it is part of my testimony.  Even I from time to time keep things hidden.  But the good part is, nothing is hidden from my wife.  I am completely candid with her.  Plus Im the world’s worst liar.  Even if I wanted to cover something up, I’d be found out eventually.  For me its just easier to get it out into the open the first time. 

So this exercise Im doing is pretty exhaustive.  Where have I been? Where am I now, Where will I be? How will I get there?  Since I try to live my life as an open book, I thought I would post these as I complete them.  For those of you that know me, many of this will be a rehash of what you already know.  Still there may be a surfer or two out there that stumbles upon this that may gain a bit of inspiration.  Wherever you may come from, I appreciate you reading this. 

Where have I been?
Accurate insight into my Christian beliefs and my personal walk with God can best be found with my testimony.  For a quick synopsis one would only need to look at the book of JOB:  A faithful man that had everything, lost everything and was blessed again with a second chance. 

I was fortunate to grow up in a God fearing home.  My parents made sure I never missed a Sunday day or evening service. I was actively involved in all facets of the church.  Giving my heart to the Lord at such a young age, I never really questioned my Christian walk; it was always a natural part of my being.  I studied the Bible and went to a Christian school and eventually a Christian college and Post-graduate school.  I was deeply versed in the faith.  I got married while I was still in Graduate school to a fellow believer.  After that we both moved to Hollywood as I embarked upon beginning my career and my family.  While in Los Angeles I never strayed from my faith, yet I was not as fervent as I could have been.  The nearly 10 years I spent there were sometimes dotted with small compromises that ultimately took their toll in the long term.  At this point, I had three wonderful children and what I thought was a pretty good life.  That’s when things took an unexpected turn.  My then wife’s father died after a long illness, and she relocated back to her hometown of Tulsa, OK.  I was informed that if I wanted to save my marriage I had to relocate.  I left my career and LA determined to save my family.  God restored the marriage.  I determined at that point to try to be the best husband and father that I could be.  After two years in Tulsa, we were called as an entire family to missionaries in Taiwan, working for a Christian production company.  It was one of the best years of my life serving the Lord and it had a tremendous positive impact on our family.  Yet SARS hit and my then wife felt like it was prudent to leave.  I didn’t want to leave but she was pretty insistent.  We both later agreed for the sake of my health it was best to leave since I’m a diabetic and have a history of upper respiratory illness’.   After two years living in Northern California working for a church, I felt the same call to go back as a missionary this time to Saudi Arabia.  I didn’t want to go and leave my family, but God’s call was unmistakable and undeniable.  I have learned to trust Him implicitly. I didn’t want to go and leave my precious family but every door closed but one.   As a family we decided that I would go alone at first and once I deemed it safe, I would bring the family over.  The plan was working fine at first as I found that God used me and blessed me in amazing ways while I was over in Saudi.  However, by the time I determined it was safe; my then wife had a big change of heart.  She decided she no longer wanted to be married to me and used the year apart as a preparation for separation and ultimately divorce.  Once I discovered the other lifestyle that she had been living I was on the next flight back to the US, leaving Saudi Arabia in less than 24 hours.  Once I got back, I didn’t recognize the person that I had known for the last 20 years. There was another person behind those eyes.    I tried fervently to save my marriage, but it was too late.  The next three years were brutal as my worst fears with the disintegration of my family were realized.  But even as Hell was thrust down upon me from all sides, I had an amazing peace as I knew that Lord was with me even in my darkest hours.  I was living this amazing dichotomy.  My feelings told me I was so unhappy and so miserable, yet at the same time I had this indescribable peace and joy.  Those of you that have been through Hell and walked with God know this peace that passes all understanding that I’m talking about.  It doesn’t make logical sense sometimes, it just works.  Feelings come and go like the tide, but God remains the constant. 
            I was able to heal and God had restored me.  God used this painful process to draw me closer to Him.  The day my ex-wife got remarried, I felt the supernatural release from my marriage. It was then I stopped trying for reconciliation as God had brought closure to that period of my life.  Shortly after that I got the opportunity to return to the Middle East as a lay missionary this time to Bahrain.  I had just turned 40 and embarked on the next chapter of my life.  God blessed me with an amazing experience as I amongst other things started a Bible study that had regular Christians, Atheists, Hindus, and Muslims attend.  God overflowed me with blessings, spiritually, physically, professionally, financially, psychologically and finally emotionally. I have so many vivid and wonderful memories of my time there.  Most of all them are chronicled in the archives of this blog.   While in the Middle East, I was led to correspond with this beautiful girl in North Carolina.  It was literally love at first Skype.  I was certain that she was the one that God had for me.  After an intense online courtship we quickly married and it has literally been “Happily Ever After” since that point.  We now have a beautiful seven month old baby daughter and life is pretty great again.  Not too many people get a second chance at life.  I am relishing each new moment.   I am an extremely blessed individual.  I am thankful for my creator having the grace and foresight of knowing exactly what I needed and when I needed it. 

As far as insight into my Christian beliefs, I grew up with the doctrine of Assemblies of God.  But in my many international travels I have learned that the essential ingredients remain 1. Love God, 2. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  If you have those two tenets down, the rest will come naturally.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Top 10 of 2011 #3 - #1

The is the last of the three part installment of my top 10 list of 2011.  At first I didn’t think 2011 was all that great.  But on careful recollection in going over the list I have discovered/remembered that 2011 was actually quite remarkable for me.  I think that is the value of counting your blessings and looking back for a short time.  One shouldn’t live their life in the past, but rather use it as a springboard for justification of their optimism that their future will be brighter.  My father always said, “May the best of your yesterdays be the worst of your tomorrows.”  Again, I reference Romans 8:28, as a believer each year should get better and better otherwise you’re not doing it right.  Sometimes the Lord works in mysterious ways.  Actually in my life, that’s the norm.  God doesn’t always make sense in the present.  Only in retrospect I see how His perfect plan had unfolded.  Take Tim Tebow for instance.  I am a life long Oakland Raider fanatic.  Thus my sworn enemies in the football sense are the Denver Broncos, our most bitter rival.  Yet, I can’t help but rooting for Tim Tebow.  God is giving him an incredible platform in which to share his faith and convictions.  Tebow is defying all the critics telling him he is a lousy quarterback and can’t win.  Yet here Tebow is, after a 3 game losing streak going into the playoffs where he can’t seem to do anything right.  Suddenly he’s the reincarnation of Joe Montana.  The whole year of Tebow defies logical explanation really.  That is how God likes to work I think.  He chooses the unremarkable people to do remarkable things and that way His glory can shine through even brighter.  If you know anything about me, I will be the first to tell you how very unremarkable I am.  I am tenacious though.  I don’t know when to quit.  That has turned out to be a good thing.  On with the list. 

#3 Meeting Ed Summers.  At SAS, I have been able to meet a lot of very smart and talented people.  There is a lot of brainpower at this company.  I had the great privilege to work on several projects with a computer programmer named Ed Summers.  Ed leads the accessibility team at SAS, is a great dad and husband and programs intricate computer code from memory.  Oh, one thing I should mention about Ed, He’s Blind!!!!   Can you believe that!?!?!?  How can you program code without being able to see anything?  Ed used to have his vision, but it slowly deteriorated starting when he was around 11.  About 10 years ago, he lost it almost completely.  Yet Ed did an admirable thing and did not let his disability define his potential.  After some soul-searching Ed decided that he could master his obstacles and overcome them.  Ed programs code in his head from memory.  The best analogy I can make to this is Beethoven after he lost his hearing, composed his 9th symphony (my favorite, the one from Die Hard, Joyful, Joyful we adore thee) Overcome the obstacles Ed did in a big way.  Now he is inspiring countless others how to overcome their own obstacles, like this writer for instance.  I think I make an immediate connection with Ed because he story is so dramatic and I seem to be drawn to drama.  I thought I could relate to him.  While I didn’t suffer a devastating physical disability (I don’t count my diabetes, to me that is more of an annoyance) rather I suffered an emotional disability with the loss of my first family.  Which I have well documented in this blog.    But rather than be defined by loss, by the grace of God I chose to be defined by what could be.  That sense of hope and optimism is what paved the way for so many blessings which led to opportunities which led directly to #2 and #1.  It seems that each and every one of us has some sort of disability, be it physical, emotional, or psychological that we need to overcome.  The outcome of our battle determines our character and our destiny. 

#2A, Thanksgiving with my family.  This isn't really a proper top 10 list, since I had to squeeze in 11.  Unfortunately, I knew that this was going to be one of the last holidays that I get to spend with my kids.  Once they turn 18 they are under no obligation to see me and they have let me know, in no uncertain terms, that will be the case.  I hope and pray that changes but really its out of my control and has been for some time.   In the mean time I will just continue to love them unconditionally.  So for Thanksgiving 2011 I flew into Houston and drove non-stop with my three children in tow to North Carolina.  It was an eventful trip as a deer hit me at 3:00 AM outside a gas station in South Carolina, and then 15 minutes from home after 19 hours of driving I get a speeding ticket.  Not that I didn't deserve it, because I did...I was just so close to home.  For Thanksgiving, Jennifer and her aunt prepared a delicious feast.  It was my first homecooked holiday meal in...well...I can't really remember the last time but it was probably since I lived in Oklahoma in 2002.  So just having my kids, Jennifer's aunt Delores, Uncle Jerry, Cousin David, and my parents with Jennifer and Sloan.  That was just magic to me.  I just wanted to catch time in a bottle hoping it wouldn't end.  I just love those kids soooooo much.  It really was special for me.  

This was our Christmas card from this year, if you didn't get it,
we don't have your address.
#2 Living with Jennifer full-time.  I know that sounds a little weird for a highlight to be living with my wife, but Jennifer and I have had a very weird relationship thus far.  Its just now that we seem to be settling into some sort of normalcy.  Jennifer and I knew that we would marry each other instinctively from our second conversation.  We call it love at first Skype.  There are so many ways that Jennifer and I are perfect for each other that it would take four or five blogs just to list all the points which I have in multiple previous blogs.  It would be redundant.   Jennifer and I knew that our marriage to each other was inevitable, almost unavoidable.  We had a choice to make.  We knew because of our careers that we would be separated physically for a short period of time.  We could either be dating/engaged while we were separated or be married and be physically separated.  So we got married and even though we were half a world a part we were less lonely.  We were able to see each other about every other month.  It was difficult but bearable.  Thus when I finally did move back to the U.S. (Highlight #6) we had to learn to live with each other.  I can see how there were many reasons why God told me to marry Jennifer as soon as possible.  One of which being I don’t believe in sex outside of marriage and with a girl as striking as Jennifer added to the fact that I had been single for four years, well…that just provided even additional incentive.  But it all worked out because I love Jennifer now more than ever and there is nothing that is going to stop that love from growing even deeper as long as we both focus on God.  This love had led directly to highlight #1.

#1 Birth of Sloan.  When Jennifer told me that she was pregnant that changed everything literally.  Our plans just went up in smoke.  But upon hindsight it was totally God’s play though and through.  ..I am going to be perfectly candid in this blog like I always have strived to be.  I have three children from a previous marriage.  I love these kids with all my heart.  I loved being a dad to them and raising them until everything went Kablooey.  My biggest prayer is that one day my relationship with my children will be restored and they will know how much I love them.  So with my history with my kids, I was afraid that with the new baby I would be like “Been there done that.”  Fortunately that has NOT been the case.  If you haven’t seen the birth video, Jennifer was very courageous.  It can be found here…but be forewarned…its not for the faint of heart.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g-7FyoBLPE
When our precious daughter Sloan was being born I remember being so caught up with emotion.  As the baby was coming down the chute I just broke out in tears.  I don’t think I had done that before.  To me the moment was particularly life defining.  It was the poetic culmination of God’s faithfulness.  I’ve heard it said when one door is closed, God will open another one. Well my door was slammed shut and God just has emphatically opened another one.    This was the completion of the emotional restoration in my life.  I call it Life Take 2.  I consider myself so lucky/blessed.  Not many people in this world get a second chance at life and here I have one on a silver platter.  Not only am I living my second half, but I feel like I have been given a silver platter in which to experience life.  This is not to say that Jennifer and I are loaded financially, but rather we both feel we are abundantly blessed in almost every conceivable way.  It’s good to be me right now.  Four years ago…not so much.  But Sloan was such a beautiful blessing.  I didn’t really like the newborn phase that much…because babies are boring (I think the nurturing, cuddling) is a mom thing.  But now is when the fun is really starting.  Sloan is six months old now, and developing a personality.  I get to see life played out again on a grand stage.  This time seems a little different, though, better.  They say time flies, but for me time seems to be slowing down so I can savor this incredible gift of a family.  I think I am taking the time to stop and smell the roses.  I am smelling each and every rose and taking my time in doing so.  I think my story is a great one, especially since it has such an unpredictable happy ending.  I feel like I’m called to tell as many people as possible about my great story as a tribute to God’s faithfulness.  Because if He can do it for me, surely he can do it for you. 

2011 turned out to be quite an outstanding year (even if the Raiders missed the playoffs again).  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Top 10 of 2011 #6 - #4

This is a continuation of the my top 10 list of 2011.  I would greatly encourage you, if you haven’t already started doing one of these of your own, that you do so.  It can be a great reminder of God’s faithfulness and blessings.  As a Christian I believe in the tenet of Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who believe and are called according to His purpose.”  But the catch is… ‘for those who believe.’  So if you are a Christian that essentially means you are in a no lose situation if you are living your life right.  Even in the most dire of circumstances you know eventually that everything will come up positive in the long run.  That promise I’ve seen evident in my life over and over again.  So no matter how bad things appear, I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ve been so brutally honest in this blog about my own struggles with highlights and lowlights to prove this.  I hope it has been convincing.  I think this is where the peace that passes all understanding comes into play.  Of course if you are not called according to His purpose, or not a believer or not living your life right…all bets are off.  Then you are on your own. You might have moments of happiness but you won’t have the over sustaining joy and peace 24/7.   Why did it take me so long to learn the principle?  When the going gets tough, the tough get on their knees.  Inexplicably sometimes it’s the answer to almost every problem I have.  It really works!!!

Jennifer's visit in Christmas 2010 outside of my flat

#6 Living in Dubai  I have lived in a lot of places all over the world.  I think my favorite place was Los Angeles, but Dubai has to be a close #2.  Living there was simply a blast.  I was quite spoiled while I was there.  I was working out of a home/office with my boss.  I know that seems weird, but I had my own bedroom and my commute to work was 24 steps. If I wanted to go swimming at the best beach in the UAE, it was a two minute walk across the street.   Another perk was that he was gone about 95% of the time so I had the place to myself.  Did I mention that there was a live in maid too?  This is quite standard in the Middle East.  So our place was on Jumeirah Beach, one of the ritziest places in Dubai.  In fact we were directly across the street from the Ritz Carlton Hotel.  It was the equivalent of living off of 5th Avenue in New York or Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles.  This was the happening and hip place to be.  I got quite spoiled having my room made up everyday and laundry ironed and folded.  All I had to do was buy the groceries and Sunita, our Indian maid would whip it right up, breakfast lunch or dinner.  Not only that, Dubai was just cool with the high rises and energy.  It was quite expensive however.  If you have seen Mission Impossible 4, that you have a good feel for what life was like.  Total luxury. 
The falcon and I after one of our shoots

#5 Leaving Dubai.  There is a time and season for everything.  Leaving Dubai was actually quite an easy decision.  I have learned that the closer you are aligned with God the easier the most difficult decisions become.  As you can see, I loved living in Dubai.  Jennifer had gotten permission to transfer her job and work out of the Dubai office.  We had even found a placed to live on the man-made Palm Islands.  Jennifer was also about 4 months pregnant at this point.  But something happened neither of us anticipated.  I was awaiting a two year contract from my employer.  I had previously been on a month to month contract.  I finally gave them a deadline for the contract.  That same day of the deadline I got a job offer to come work for Jennifer’s company in North Carolina.  The timing was certainly of God.  It made a seemingly very difficult choice simple.  Honestly I think the offer was more about them not wanting to lose Jennifer than to be gaining Rick, but either way it worked.  In hindsight, I can totally see God’s hand in this move.  Jennifer developed serious complication in the latter stages of her pregnancy.  If she would have been in Dubai we would not have had health insurance.  So the costs would have been prohibitive.  Plus where there are certainly fine medical care facilities in the Middle East, being home sure brought with it a lot of peace of mind as we trudged through the uncertainty of our first child together. 
Jennifer and I snow skiing indoors in the Mall of the Emirates

#4  Working at SAS.  All three of these neatly fold together.  Forbes magazine voted SAS the #1 company to work for in America two years in a row.  I have also worked for DreamWorks in the past and DreamWorks is usually on the top 10 list as well.  But SAS is clearly #1.  What a great environment in which to work.  SAS has its own cafeterias, racquetball courts, swimming pools, Hair and nail salons, fitness center, doctor’s offices, physical therapists, and as of this month their own pharmacy.  Everything you could thing of in a company SAS seems to have thought of it first.  Again I feel quite spoiled/blessed working here.  There is also so much positivity as everyone I’ve met at SAS has been proud of working for this great company. 

#3-#1 Coming soon.  

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Top 10 of 2011, #10-#6

2011 was a real year of transition for me in so many ways.  For me following up 2010 was difficult, as 2010 has gone down as the best year of my life, so far.  The key here is “so far” as I believe that if you are doing it right, life should get better and better.  That isn’t to say you won’t have setbacks, rather the setbacks will not be debilitating.  With the right attitude you will be able to build on them.  I certainly had my share of setbacks this past year, but I refused to do be identified with the setbacks.  Instead I think of setbacks as just setting the stage for the comebacks.  If you would like to read the highlights of the aforementioned 2010 it can be found here.  http://rickbeeman.blogspot.com/2011_01_01_archive.html

Jennifer gave me this idea about doing a top 10 list.  I think it’s a fabulous idea for a number of reasons.  First of all, it will be nice in a few years to look back and see what the actual highlights were.  I can go back and figure out what #1 and #2 were for say 1994 or 1998, but anything more than that is stretching it.  Keeping a list of positives is also good to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness. When things aren’t going our way, we simply look back to God’s blessings and it helps us refocus on the positives.  So let me count this down from 10 to 1 for Rick Beeman’s top 10 moments of 2011. 

#10, Tuesday night trivia.  I think this officially makes me a nerd, but I just love going to trivia.  It started at an Irish pub in Bahrain, and then transferred to an Irish Pub in Cary.  I think this gives me a tangible outlet for all the warehouse of useless information that is stored in my head.  I don’t drink, but I think the Hibernian has the best Cheeseburgers in Cary.  We win more often than we lose.  Its great fun on a Tuesday night.  This was Jennifer’s crew at first, but I took over for her once she had the baby.  Jennifer has come back once since them to introduce her old team to Sloan.  This is a picture from that.  The pub isn’t the best place for a baby unless you’re in Ireland, then I think it becomes a rite of passage. 

#9  Superbowl Party at Darren’s.  This had become a tradition for me.  My good pal Darren would throw a Superbowl Party in Bahrain for all the American expats.  We had a few other nationalities represented who mainly came to see what the big deal was all about.  Darren went all out for these parties that started around 2:00 am local time and didn’t finish up til 7:00 am or just in time for work.  I made it two of these Super Bowl Parties before I went to Dubai.  But since Dubai was only a 45 minute flight away, I made an excuse to make it back for the party.  It was a great time to see old and now lifelong friends again in Bahrain.  While I don’t miss living in Bahrain or the Middle East, I do greatly miss the people and the sense of purpose that I had while I was living there.  My sense of purpose is still here, it has just been modified somewhat.

#8 Selling a House.  Jennifer had put her house on the market in February or March thinking we were moving to Dubai…more on that below.  So at first she had it for sale by owner, then we found an agent.  There were a few people that came through to look at it, but not many.  More importantly we had zero offers.  This was quite discouraging as she was going through the latter parts of her pregnancy.  Then the day she before she was to be induced, we got the one and only offer for the house.  So here we are in the hospital room negotiating the final details of the price.  It was quite eventful and Im sure stressful, Jennifer is/was a real trooper. Which leads directly to #7
#7 Buying a House  Once we realized that we were most likely going to be selling, we had to find a place to live…quick. We had to be out of our old place in six weeks.  So here Jennifer is very pregnant with pre-eclampsia, and hours before she is to be admitted to the hospital for delivery, she is house hunting.  Again what a trooper.  She looked at 8 houses, I think but we couldn’t find the perfect house.  So the baby came (More on that later…spoiler alert…It’s #1) and the day after she was released from the hospital we are out looking for houses again.  Nothing seems to keep this girl down.  Fortunately we found an ideal house without too much more looking.  We were actually homeless in the literal sense for a couple of days between the closings.   This bigger house gives us more room for visitors and plenty of room for expansion in the children department.  It really is a lovely place and Jennifer and I feel very blessed to be in it.  Especially with the short time frame that we had to work with getting into it.  God had his hand in this entire process so that is why we weren’t stressed that much.  At least I wasn’t stressed, not so sure about Jennifer.  I found that stress and worry are amazingly counter-productive so I don’t get riled up by almost anything anymore.  Like the faithful readers of the blog will realize, I’ve been through the fire already, everything else seems like a cakewalk from here on out. 

OK…don’t want to reveal too much too soon, so #6-#1 will come next.  If you would like to leave your own highlights, they don’t have to number 10, I would be thrilled to read them.  Please leave them in the comments section.