TG TruGlory

Haircuts for the homeless.  Pizza for the hungry.  Trendy clothing for those on a budget.

Who spends their Tuesday nights making this happen?

Tito Garcia.

Last week, my dear friend, Jackie, wore a cool black shirt bearing the letters TG.  I asked her about it, and she smiled wide as she explained it to be part of the TG TruGlory clothing line.

“You know,” she said, “TruGlory?”

I shook my head.  “Nope.”  Keeping pace with fashion has become a distant memory.  With three children under ten in my house, I feel I’ve accomplished a major feat if all the laundry is sorted, washed, and folded neatly in baskets before midnight on Mondays.

“Well, you know Tito, the drummer at church?”  I nodded.  “It all started with him.”

As Jackie shared with me about the ministry, my jaw hit the floor.  How had I not heard about this?  The more Jackie said, the more blessed I became by one man’s vision and how, in 2012, God grew his desire into a reality.

Today, TG TruGlory serves the homeless of Hoboken, NJ and impacts lives in immeasurable, important ways.  Grooming and haircuts to lift the spirit, pizza and sandwiches to satisfy and strengthen, attractive shoes and apparel to meet everyone’s budget.  TG TruGlory’s kindness and compassion shines clear and bright through its generous acts of love.

The story moved me deeply.

Last year, my husband and I celebrated out 15th Anniversary in NYC.  Even though we live ten minutes from Manhattan, we rarely go into the City but took the opportunity for this special occasion.  Our hotel stood near Times Square, and as we approached it, I couldn’t help but notice the sidewalk lined with the homeless.

Tears filled my eyes.

Throughout the course of the weekend, my eyes searched them out, laying on benches, huddled along alleyways, sleeping on church steps.  I couldn’t escape the wrenching-of-heart, the anguish of soul.  I felt their pain as my own and wanted to somehow ease theirs.  All of it.  Unrealistic, I know, but the “wanting to” never left me.

“You’ll get used to seeing them around,” some might say, “and then it won’t bother you so much.”

Get used to it?  I pray not.

I pray that the suffering of the wounded bothers me long into the night and drives me to my knees on their behalf.  I pray that the broken hearts of strangers compel me to deny myself a pleasurable evening and do something to impact the eternity of another human being.  I pray that concern for those who have no hope would fill my heart and embolden my prayers.

Every day.

Whenever I look into the eyes of the homeless, I see what could have been my future.  I have a heart condition, which for years was disabling, and without supportive family and friends to help me through that time . . .

I could have been homeless.

Perhaps that why I can’t look past and ignore.  I can’t walk by and not be moved.  Some don’t want help, but many do.

I want to always remember them.  I want to always stop and “see”.  I want to treat others the way I wish someone would’ve treated me had circumstances forced me to walk miles down their road.

Thank you, Tito, for proving an incredible example of a man who lives out his faith in humble, practical ways, transforming time and talent into an eternal investment.  Thank you for showing how simple it is to offer the gifts God has given back to Him by serving others.  Thank you for inspiring me to do more with everything breath that He gives.

I love what you’re doing, Tito, and am honored to call you my brother in Christ.  I appreciate the sacrifice your wonderful wife, Taina, and boys make every Tuesday night to be apart from you, making them partners with you in ministry.

May God richly bless this amazing family, TG TruGlory, and all those touched by their faithful service, both today – and beyond.

 

Captain Morgan

When people asked me during the 2016 election period who I thought would be the best President of the United States, my first answer was Jesus Christ.  My second choice elicited smiles, nods, and many times, for those who know my candidate personally, solid agreement.

He didn’t run for any office that year and sadly has no intention of doing so in the future, yet I believe he would prove a compassionate leader, fierce protector, and amazing hero.

He already is.

Nearly three years ago, this particular candidate harnessed the guts and gusto to step into a sinking ship with a marvelous resolve to right it and propel it along a prosperous new course.  Many had attempted this daring feat and failed, but after much prayer and prudence, he determined to set sail.

Within months, he surpassed his goal and gained the favor of kings.  The unwavering loyalty of his diverse crew spoke volumes about his management style and his ability to bring people together, unify a motivated team, and build them up with strength, vision, and purpose.

Today, other captains, both near and far, have noticed and called upon my candidate for advice, comraderie, products, and employment.  While blessed by finding favor, he vigilantly keeps his heart in check, knowing that humility permeates a truly successful man.  He couldn’t be labeled an ivory tower poster boy, as he never hesitates to toss his collared shirt aside and grab a pair of gloves, working the lines alongside his team when the call arises.

Fully aware when in the presence of his betters, he embraces opportunities to learn and grow rather than cower in fear or wallow in a pit of insecurity, asking, “Who moved my cheese?”  Respecter of persons, giver of grace, he takes responsibility for his actions, rights his wrongs, and makes it a practice to take the high road.

For years, he faithfully provided for a family with significant challenges.  This man has sacrificed much for the sake of many.  He is adored and appreciated far more than he knows.  Through wind, sleet and hail, he’s climbed uphill battles, the kind that separate the men from boys, clashes that cost him nearly everything dear.

He’s a man, one that stands in the gap.  When the going gets tough, he hits his knees and prays God would enable him to get tougher.  I’ve seen this Man of Steel fight fires and chase down giants, carry groceries for elderly ladies and visit men behind bars, befriend the outcast and weep with the homeless.

What kind of candidate does such things?

No, he’s not Jesus.  My candidate would detest the comparison and declare his shortcomings.

Yet, it’s Jesus’ heart I see in him.

Every man falls.  Faced with the choice stay down or rise up.  Learning from the “falling” and re-charting his course accordingly have defined the man he has become.  This post, this resume of character, reflects the heart of a man dedicated to living a life worthy of the words, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”

Who does such things?  My nominee.

Movie-making, drone-flying mad scientist, this seafarer of mine.  Relentlessly-cycling, steadilyy-swimming, marathon-running machine.  Former skydiver and electrician turned poet and friend.

A leader who leads leaders.  A warrior who protects at all costs.  A chosen vessel who commands his ship with the wisdom of Solomon and the love of Christ.

A devoted father, husband, and friend.

Christian T. Morgan

The name Morgan means “of the sea” and well-fits this able and excellent Captain.

O Captain, my Captain!  Thank you for not hesitating to steer our ship straight into the storms of life, fearless and bold, loving to the end.  From the Bronx to the White House, I’ll hold up your sign, wear your t-shirt, and campaign across the USA, proud to be by your side.

And to nominate you for the office of President of the United States.

Happy Birthday!  We rejoice in God’s gift of you!

It Ate Roast Beef

To the delight of the kids, Christian had taken a random August Wednesday off to pack the SUV to the gills with snacks, sunscreen, and beach toys, and when it could hold no more, we piled in and zipped off to enjoy Morgan Family Beach Day 2017.

Who could have known a ruthless assailant lurked nearby?

We pulled into the Point Pleasant lot, gathered up our “Fun Gear”, and headed toward the shoreline.  The kids squealed with delight as they ditched their flip-flops and immersed their feet in the glistening sand.  We pitched our camp.  Colorful towels and sandcastles, beach ball and snacks, seagulls and water.  It was all fun and games.

Until.

Hannah asked me to swim with her, and I gladly obliged.  We swam out past the littles dipping buckets for castle-building and past the knee-depth adventurers seeking shells and creatures, settling into the deeper water rhythm, letting the waves push us up, then gently letting our bodies fall.

After a mere five minutes, I felt an object strike the middle toe on my left foot at such high speed that my entire leg shot out and swung me 180-degrees.  Pain almost immediately replaced the shock.  I awkwardly lurched forward and clutched my ankle but then nearly face-planted in the salty water..

“Hannah,” I gasped, “are you okay?”  My mama bear instincts kicked in.  I initially thought I’d somehow kicked her shin and worried that she suffered a worse injury than mine.

With a sweet, faraway look, she took a minute to paddle around and face me.

“What?”

“Didn’t you feel that?”

“Feel what?”

“I don’t know,” I said, amazed she hadn’t sustained an injury.  “Some strong current or a rock . . . something hit me so hard that I spun around.  I couldn’t tell if I whacked your shin.”

“I’m fine.”  She returned to her dreamy, relaxed floating over the wave tops, focusing her gaze back to the shoreline.

I’m not!  I didn’t want to intrude further on her reverie and vowed to hang in there a while longer, but I wasn’t sure how long I could last.  All attempts to catch and hold my ailing appendage were inhibited by the waves, so it hung down in the water, fluttering and flapping with the current.

Ouch.

Instead of resembling a solid, weblike flipper, my left foot had become a prong-like, inefficient painful mess.  Time to pull the plug.

I hobbled back to camp while Hannah reported the news to Christian.  Lifeguards gathered and the EMT assessed.  Christian packed up the no-longer-fun gear.  The kids oscillated between disappointment and concern, and a beach wheelchair carried me to the gate, where we loaded up and headed home.

Early.  Way too early.

I tried to console myself and my blessed carload with Pollyanna thoughts.  At least we got to go.  I’ll only visit the ER, not be admitted.  The drive isn’t long.  We can come back another time.

Then I glanced in my little spy view mirror.

Speckles of sand stuck to their faces and necks as they stared out the windows, open-mouthed and nearly nodding off.  They’d so looked forward to this day.  I glanced at Christian sideways, the set of his jaw, the sag of his shoulders.

I changed course.  Tossing my power of positive thinking to the wind, I spoke the words they needed to hear most in that moment.

“I’m sorry, everybody,” I said, my voice breaking with sobs.  “I’m sorry we had to leave early.  I didn’t want to either.  It really stinks.”

Hearts melted and small smiles covered their faces.

“It’s okay, Mommy!”s and “You couldn’t help it”s erupted throughout the vehicle.  Christian grasped my hand and squeezed with a chuckle.

“It’ll make for great footage.”

Great.  Just great.

Hannah accompanied me to the ER.  Christian had thought it might need to be set, but alas, I received the standard tape, ace bandage, and crutches.  I could’ve used the ones from last summer (when I broke my right foot) if one arm pad hadn’t fallen off.

Six weeks later, it still isn’t healed.  I’ve probably been walking on it too much, but with three young kids during the summertime, it’s hard to keep this girl down.  I’ll try to be good for a bit longer . . .

To this day, I have no idea what struck my toe.  The podiatrist following up with me said that the break was bad, running diagonally down the length of my bone.  Abby had attended the initial visit with me, and when he’d asked which toe I’d broken, she giggled.

“It ate roast beef.”

For the full and complete video of Morgan Family Beach Day 2017, click here.

 

Great Wolf Lodge

When the pressures of life swirl around you, seeming to assault from every angle, have you ever felt an intense, urgent desire to escape?

Me, too.

At the height of our crises, I had neither time nor energy to contemplate getting away with my family.  The thought of packing one more suitcase – even for a supposedly fun event instead of the hospital – would have overwhelmed and undone me.  But if I had been able to muster enough gumption to get it done, I would’ve rounded up the family and headed to a Great Wolf Lodge.

We’d never been to one before April of this year.  Friends had occasionally mentioned it here and there over the years, and after having staying there, I found myself wishing I’d realized earlier not only what a great place it is but also what an enjoyable respite it would’ve been during our difficult times.

Respite is crucial to surviving severe, long-lasting storms.

Respite is also helpful for living out the mundane well.  With all the stressors of daily life, taking some down time to recharge the battery is important.  I would argue that every family benefits greatly from annual vacationing, allowing them an opportunity to close out another year while celebrating its highs and the lows, pushing reset while having fun, refreshing themselves in order to best face the coming year.

Together.

We visited the Mason, OH location during Easter break and enjoyed every single second. When we arrived at midnight, the front desk attendant distributed three sets of wolf ears along with the room keycards and waterpark wristbands.

Wristbands.  My heart caught in my throat.

I loathed and loved them all at once.  For years, Christian and I had worn similar hospital bracelets 24-7 that matched our children’s ICU wristbands.  With these coded bands, we’d had access to one of the world’s best children’s hospitals, the closest parking lot, and (in the early days) a cafeteria discount.  We were grateful for the opportunity to give our children the best shot they could get.

Yet I’d hated every minute of the wearing.

Those wristbands served as a constant reminders that our children might die.  It’s amazing how one little pink fluorescent strip can evoke such violent emotion, a blaring and inescapable reminder of the mortality of a child.

My child.

My eyes welled with tears as I received mine from the Great Wolf Lodge attendant.  I could only nod when she asked to cut the remainder of the fastening strip from my wrist.  This was the first time in a long time I’d worn a happy bracelet.

It felt good.

I headed back to the car and passed out the wolf ears.  Smiles spread across sleepy faces. Joy erupted as we entered our room, and the kids scattered all around, inspecting everything from their bunk area in the kid cabin to the pink bottles of body wash on the bathtub.

Our stay was fantastic.  We did the waterslides and the ice cream parlor, the wave pool and the arcade, the gift shop and the in-house Dunkin’ Donuts.  The best part about the whole setup was accessibility.  If the kids needed to nap after hitting the waterpark for four hours, we simply walked up to our room.  If we got hungry between meals, the snack center within the waterpark served many delicious organic choices, as well as typical park fare.  If we wanted to buy anything, we simply scanned our bracelets and billed our account.

It crossed my mind how convenient everything was and also would have been in the height of crisis.  We didn’t have to schlep to the car or lug our wallets with us.  We didn’t have to manage towels and snack bags or figure out how to carry extra water, medicine, and ice in a cooler. We didn’t have to worry about the cares left behind and could slip into blissful anonymity within the crowd.

We didn’t have to think about anything.  After all the years of multi-tasking, strategic planning, and over-drive, we simply relaxed, had fun, and felt completely taken care of.

Five stars, all-around.

Thank you, Great Wolf Lodge, for a safe and fun adventure.  Thank you, Morgan Family, for sharing your laughter and love,  Thank you, Lord, for our family and for precious memories that will last a lifetime.

Praying you and yours get to enjoy some respite time together soon . . . hopefully this summer and every year beyond.

If you’d like to see The Morgan Family – Great Wolf Lodge  – 2017 Vacation movie Christian made (he did a great job, by the way – he even created his own music on GarageBand!), please check out the following link:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sLwKH0RqCls

 

 

 

 

Policeman to Prisoner

Have you ever been blown away by something unexpected, like attending an event you predicted would be fun and pleasant only later to find yourself witnessing an incredible, heart-grabbing experience?

That happened to me last night.

My kids, my daughter’s friend (Zoe), and I chatted happily as I drove to Vacation Bible School (VBS) at our home church, Living Word Community Church in Dumont, NJ.  It was sure to be a great time as we would learn about Ancient Rome with many boys and girls from the community.

Growing up, I’d attended many VBS programs and enjoyed them.  I can remember many to this day and stand thankful for the men and women who gave up weeks of their summer to pour into my life in this special way.

All of my children had come home from VBS last year pumped about Egypt and Joseph.  Hannah still wears the headband she received at one of the activity stations.  I was impressed by how eager they’d been to go each night.  They learned so much in a short period of time, and I found myself quite disappointed that I couldn’t be involved due to my broken foot.

So, we looked forward all year long to visiting Ancient Rome together.  I signed up to help and got the kids registered.  Miss Jackie gave me my packet of information, and I attended the team meeting.  Hannah even got a Roman costume so that she could look her part while serving food in the marketplace.

VBS is geared for children.  Little did I know how powerful it would prove in my life.

As I watched it all come together, I stood amazed as volunteer after volunteer poured into the church.  The die-hard kind.  The dress-up and make-it-real type.  Roman soldiers in full uniform, complete with swords and sheaths.  Women arrayed with dazzling gold earrings and Roman togas.

Huge archways and walkways of stone greeted visitors as they made their way through the hallways and transported to the pillars of Ancient Rome.  Children seemed to come out of the wood work and fill the sanctuary with their smiles and energy.  As the music began and the evening unfolded, it was beautiful to see everyone interact in their intimate family circles, communicating a message of God’s free gift of love and enjoying a special evening together.

Many things impressed me, but one blew me away.

One of the drama scenes portrayed a small prison cell, which the VBS team had masterfully constructed using duct table and a small corner of the sanctuary.  Two men shared a heavy iron chain, one stood, the other knelt.  One stood full of authority and obvious scorn for his prisoner, the other surrendered.

The visual image of a man, bound and shackled, was powerful.  Freedom vanished in the dark oppressive sanctuary that moments ago was filled with laughter and love.  If it weren’t for the joy spread across Paul’s face, I fear the children would have fled, but his radiant countenance compelled them to draw near and sit at his feet.

Brutus, the guard (played by Mauricio) sternly warned the kids as they entered that they could have only five minutes with his prisoner.  Their wide eyes met his as they nodded and sat.  Then, Paul (played by Dante) took over with his kind, welcoming words, full of love and grace.  He told them of God’s free gift of love and how we all need it because Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The kids hung on Paul’s every word.  Not only were they drawn to his words but also who he was as a person.  He sang while chained!  He smiled under guard.  And best of all, he sat content.  One child asked why he didn’t try to escape through “the window over there?”

Paul shook his head and said, “No, I want to be here because I know it’s where God wants me to be.”  He said it with such clarity and confidence, proving how remarkable his character was.  His demeanor never changed, his sanity certain, his peace impenetrable.

Paul definitely made a lasting impression on the kids, but he likely has no idea how his performance last night affected me.  Dante’s portrayal was so believable, so real.  I couldn’t help but be drawn to Paul of the Bible, the one I grew up reading about, the one I’ve idolized as both writer and theologian.  I’ve mapped his missionary journeys and played out his stories with flannel graphs.

He’s one of my heroes.

To see his persona so lifelike, so real.  And the part played by a man I don’t know well but highly respect.  I had the privilege of being in a Wednesday night prayer group with Dante some months ago.  I hadn’t met him, but as our group went around the circle, he joined in, pouring out requests before God for many teenagers.

I guessed the man might be a teacher, remembering his class in prayer.  But he seemed to know a lot about the teens, more than a teacher would likely know.  I later learned that he’s a policeman, one that goes above and beyond the call of duty.

One that prays.

To see an officer in chains struck me, an officer content and at peace before children, wanting them to know the love of his Savior, not just during VBS week but every day of his life.

Thank you, Dante, for your challenging example on-and-off the stage.  Thank you, Mauricio, for making Paul’s captivity and oppression so convincing.  Thank you to Jackie and the entire team of committed adults and teens serving together to make this a long-remembered, life-touching experience.

For everyone.

Please join us if you live in the Dumont, NJ area from 6:30-8:30 pm every night through Friday of this week – we’d love to experience Rome with you!

 

What Love Looks Like

“What does love look like to you?”

I asked my five-year-old Abby Mae this question one day.  She responded by quietly smiling and hopping off her chair.

“I need my art box, Mommy.”  With titled head and thoughtful gaze, she poured over a simple sheet.  I expected something with hearts and flowers, maybe butterflies and family, but her final masterpiece took my breath away.

“Jesus on the cross.”

My eyes filled with tears as had hers.  I took in her glowing countenance, her tender gaze.  Her love for Him was beautiful.

“Sweetheart, this picture is wonderful!  Please tell me all about it.”

“There’s Jesus on the cross,” she said, her small finger tracing his form, “and all of those circles are his boo-boos.”

The week prior, I’d searched online for Easter movie clips and briefly previewed a scene of The Passion of the Christ, which portrayed Jesus’ agony immediately after Roman soldiers scourged Him.  Abby had passed through the room at that moment and froze when her eyes landed on the screen.

“Why is Jesus bleeding?  He’s not on the cross yet.”

I explained to her that the beating was part of His punishment, the one He bore but never deserved, for her, for me.

It bothered her.  To her core.

“I don’t want Him to bleed, Mommy.”  She wept and wept.

It had obviously affected her in a profound way, for as I sat with her, gazing at the picture, something about it further struck me.

“Abby, I’ve never seen Jesus smiling while He’s on the cross.”

“He’s smiling because He loves me.”

I had the privilege of leading our children’s Sunday school class in their Palm Sunday song, The Salvation Poem, on Sunday.  We’d practiced for several weeks, and even though Abby had always sung with a smile, the difference was marked after we’d seen the movie clip.

After she’d noticed Jesus bleeding.

Her every word flowed past thoughtful lips, her misty eyes closing at times.  Her little hands moved fervently as we made a cross with our arms and hung our heads to die.  Radiant joy spread across her face as we sang the news of Jesus rising to save the lost and forgiving our sins.

At only five years of age, this sweet girl loves her Savior and feels deeply loved by Him.

May we all bask in the precious love of the Savior.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunchbox Calamity

One blustery November school day, my older two children burst through the door at 3:05 pm, slightly before their typical arrival.  By the way they dumped their backpacks, castoff their coats, and yanked at their shoes, I knew something was terribly wrong.

“Hey, guys!  Is everything okay?”

With eyes widened and hands on hips, they stared at me, raging like a silent storm, their faces brooding and ominous with dark clouds gathering and rain threatening to pour.  Their collective countenance shook me, their silence even more.

“Sweethearts, what’s wrong?”

John found his voice first.  “You didn’t put a note in my lunchbox.”

“Me neither!”  Hannah nodded vehemently.

I gasped.  “Really?”

“Really!” they said in unison.

“I’m sorry!”  Thankfully, those were the words that fell from my lips, and my wounded children instantly forgave me.  Relieved smiles and, “That’s okay, Mommy!” surrounded me as I found myself all covered up with kids.

As we embraced each other, my mind reeled, attempting to take in what my children’s direct confrontation had brought to the forefront.  I’d had no idea how much my scribbling on a napkin during the wee hours of the morning had affected my children, little by little, day after day.

And it blessed me.

When they’d first started the school year, I’d planned to just pop a note in now and then, not necessarily every day.  But the writer in me found myself enjoying the process, so a personalized napkin made it into their boxes daily.

Until this particular November day.

A little finger tapped my forearm, poking me back into the present.  I turned to see Abby standing off to the side, crossing her arms and jutting her chin.

“Oh yeah, Mommy!  That’s right!  I remember now.  You didn’t put one in my snack box at preschool, too!”

“I’m sorry, Abby!”

“That’s okay, Mommy!” And she jumped with glee into the middle of our wonderful mayhem.

Because Abby doesn’t yet read, I typically draw something simple that she can decipher herself, so it’s a nice way to let her know Mommy loves her.  But that’s about it.  I can’t go very deep without words.

Looking back, I’m thankful for my oversight because in so doing, the forgotten lunchbox note put a big memo in mine, declaring loudly from the schoolhouse steps that one of the most important things I do each day is to take five minutes and write something meaningful on cheap white paper napkins with colorful markers.

It’s a megaphone into the hearts of my children.

They don’t mind if it’s cheesy or that I can’t draw like Picasso.  They don’t care if I misspell or screw up the punctuation.  They’re not picky about Bible translations or verb tenses.  They simply want a personalized message to them from me.

From Mom.

How powerful is the word of a parent into the heart of their child!

One time, I put multi-colored pre-printed cards I’d cut out of a magazine and then laminated into their boxes, thinking it would be something special.  Both kids came home, saying, “Thanks, Mom – but where’s my note?”

I dropped the whole fancy card bit.

We also had to have a talk about actually using the napkins after John came home with remnants of lunch around his mouth.

“Didn’t you use your napkin, Buddy?”

He gasped.  “Why no, Mom!  I would never wipe my mouth with my special lunch note!  Really – I never use them.”  He smiled and puffed out his chest at this great accomplishment and symbolic act of respect.

I now pack two napkins for him.  I keep telling my thrifty side that it’s an investment.

One I can’t afford to stop.

My kids and I laugh now about that first episode, for it’s happened another time or two.  My younglings realize I’m not perfect and still deeply love them.  Instead of their initial  emotive reaction, all I get is a playful scolding followed by a forgiving hug and grin.

And a, “Please don’t forget tomorrow, Mommy!”