Monday, November 2, 2015

Our Story (So Far)




My name is Joe Boronat, I'm forty years old, a former pastor, as well as a youth pastor. I'm married to Kathy, my beautiful wife going on fourteen years, and am the father of a precious and precocious girl, Isabella, who is almost three years old. 

I also have been diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme, a very aggressive, terminal brain cancer.

This is our story (so far).

I had a grand mal seizure in the early morning hours of July 4th 2011 when I was a pastor in Culpeper, Virginia.  The only way to describe the seizure was it felt like I was vomiting sound. My poor wife awoke to hear her husband screaming. My body was rigid, arms up over my head, and in the middle of the seizure I stopped breathing. Kathy called 911 and performed CPR.

Before this seizure, I was completely asymptomatic; no headaches, no blurred vision, no nothing.

The paramedics took us to the Culpeper Hospital ER, and we waited.  Finally, when they saw me, they dismissed it.  My wife was enraged when the emergency room doctors refused to do a CAT scan. One of them went so far as to ask Kathy "Do you realize how much radiation we're talking about? You don't want that in your husband's head." It was the 4th of July, so their MRI suite was closed. The nearest facility with an active MRI was an hour's drive away. The doctor said he was 90% sure it was a night terror.

The following week, we saw Dr. George Stergis, a local neurologist who saw how concerned Kathy was and decided to order an MRI for the following Monday.

To tell you the truth, I had mixed feelings about the MRI.

Sure it would give us peace of mind to know that everything was okay up there, but MRI’s are really expensive. Because I rarely went to the doctor, I thought I didn’t need a good health insurance policy.  So, I chose the high-deductible plan.

An MRI would cost us thousands of dollars out of pocket, but I had it done.

Just in case.

Two hours after the MRI, Dr. Stergis had Kathy and I come back to his office.

Pointing to the MRI he said, “This is not a night terror.”

I had a tumor the size of a large egg in the frontal lobe of my brain. As my wife started weeping, Dr. Stergis explained that I needed surgery to have it removed.

Immediately.

It was at that very moment that I felt the supernatural hand of God giving me peace. I can’t describe it in words. I just felt the LORD's peace wash over me.

Jesus said in John 14:27:"I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.”

I just knew that everything was going to be alright.

The neurologist promised that he would get the very best doctors available.  The next morning, we were sitting with an experienced neurosurgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Elias, at the renowned University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville, scheduling surgery. 

He was confident that the operation would be a success, given the location of the tumor. It was in the region of the brain (left frontal lobe) where speech is processed. I might have some affective aphasia (having difficulty finding the "right" words to complete my thoughts), but nothing that would seriously impair me.
I told Dr. Elias to be as aggressive as possible to get the entire tumor out.  We left the visit, and Kathy remarked how much Dr. Elias's calm demeanor put her at ease.

I remember her words, "Like an angel sent from God."

After lunch, we visited with Dr. Benjamin Purow, a neuro-oncologist (brain cancer specialist).  Another MRI was scheduled for Sunday, and brain surgery would be scheduled for Monday morning.

Wednesday morning I returned to UVA and visited the neurosurgery clinic again. I filled out paperwork for the procedure, and had blood work done. After the blood work, the nurse mentioned that my blood type is B+.

Huh?

Growing up, I always was told that it was O+.

So now when people ask me why I’m so cheerful, I respond "I can't help it, my blood type is ‘Be Positive’."

Sunday finally came, and we made the drive down to Charlottesville. The afternoon before surgery, I was given fiducial dots (small round foam stickers) all over my head to guide the neurosurgeon to precisely know where the tumor tissue was. Kind of like a GPS for my brain.

There are about 30 Global Positioning Satellites in orbit around the earth. If a device that has a GPS chip (like most smart phones) can detect at least 3 of them, it can get a very accurate fix on your location.

The fiducial dots work in the same manner. They are used to help the surgeon get an extremely accurate fix on the tumor’s location.

I had my MRI, and was released until early the next morning. So there I was, walking around the UVA campus, with a bunch of foam stickers resting on shaved patches of my head.

I had forgotten my hat.

I remember in pre-op the next morning, asking the nurse that since they were going to have my head open anyways, if they could put in some superpowers. 

Without missing a beat, she asked “Super-strength, or the ability to fly. Which would you like?”

Being able to fly sounded really cool, so I asked for that (however, I ended up with super-hearing; more about that later).

Surgery was successful, and I awoke propped up in the Neuro ICU. I was able to make out that there were people surrounding me.  Besides the obvious nurses, there was Kathy, my dad and my step-mother.  They asked me if I could speak.  I made a noise of some sort, and the next few days were rather hazy. 

The day I left, I saw Dr. Purow, and he had good news.  The tumor was a Grade 2 Oligoastrocytoma.  It was benign and so I didn't need radiation or chemotherapy. However, I did need to get routine MRI's to make sure that if it did come back (and there was a very high possibility that it would), they could catch it early enough to assess all my options.

With the mass removed, I was back to work and the gym within a couple of month’s time. 

Nothing short of miraculous.

Now about the “Super-hearing”.  I always had trouble hearing what people were saying.  My wife would probably say that my problem wasn’t HEARING but rather LISTENING.  Anyways, my hearing got perceptibly sharper.  For example, my wife and my sister would be having a hushed conversation in the kitchen, and I would be in the next room over.  I would ask them to please speak more quietly, because I could hear every word they were saying.

As time went on, I got used to getting MRI's every 2 months, then every 3 months, then every 4 months. 

My wife got pregnant during this time, which was a huge answer to prayer, for we had been praying for a child of our own for years.

I had been working as a bi-vocational pastor at the time.  My secular employment was a part-time job at the Culpeper Library.  While I did have flexible hours, I didn’t get nearly enough of a salary to support a family.  Kathy had a teaching position, but even with her salary, we were just scraping by.

So I prayed, and I looked, and I applied for full-time employment for months.  Nothing.  So I put it in God’s hands and let Him take care of it.

You see, there WILL come times in your life when you have exhausted every resource under your control and will have to depend on God alone.

Paul, said in Philippians 4:6-7: “Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

So I trusted He would provide, even though Kathy’s due date was rapidly approaching.

Her due date was Friday, November the 9th.

I went to work at the library on Monday, November the 5th.  And lo and behold, I got two calls that morning for interviews; one from the Town of Culpeper, and one from Germanna Community College, which was located in the next county over.

I went to the interviews, both of which were scheduled on November the 8th.  I began each interview with the following disclaimer; 

“If I seem nervous, it’s because my wife’s due-date is tomorrow.”

The Town of Culpeper position was for a Housekeeper.  It would be a full-time job with full benefits, insurance, retirement and I’d get a Town iPhone to boot.  I’d be responsible for cleaning Town owned facilities like Public Works, Town Hall and the Police Department.

Public Works, where I’d start each day was literally 5 minutes from our home.  Oh, and the hours were extremely flexible.

Germanna’s interview was for a cashier.  It was part-time, no benefits, and a half-hour commute each way.  Plus, I’d have to travel to Fredericksburg (another 20 minutes) some days.

I was so excited, that when I picked Kathy up from her job (we only had one car at the time), I told her that I was going to take the Town of Culpeper position if they offered it to me.

That night, Kathy’s water broke.  The next day, Friday, November 9th, at 5:10pm, we welcomed Isabella Katherine Boronat to the world.

Later that evening, I checked my phone and saw that the Town of Culpeper had left a message.

They offered me the position.

I gave the Library my 2 weeks notice, and joined blue-collar America.

We spent that first year experiencing the ups and downs of parenthood.  




Well, since I was on sleep medications, Kathy was the one experiencing the joys of sleepless nights.

Now we had asked Dr. Purow to give us word if anything showed up on one of the MRIs.  “No news is good news,” he replied.  We had a routine MRI the Thursday before Isabella's 1st birthday party.  Not hearing from him, we assumed the best.

We enjoyed her birthday weekend, not realizing the difficult road we were just about to undertake.













We had gotten familiar by now with the UVA clinic.  We would drive the hour down to Charlottesville, maybe catch lunch at a restaurant, go to the clinic and wait to see Dr. Purow, who always came in smiling.

He wasn't smiling this time.

The first words out of his mouth were, “How are you feeling?”  

The tumor had returned, and he felt the best course of action was to do another brain surgery.  I met with a different neurosurgeon, Dr. Ashok Asthagiri, the following week.  I stated that I wanted for them to be just as aggressive this time around.

The only problem was that since the tumor had been almost completely removed the last time, if they were as aggressive this time as well, they would risk severely damaging my ability to communicate. 

Besides that, their fear was that it had already spread out microscopic fingers into other parts of my brain.  It was impossible to get all of the tumor out because it would mean taking out half my brain.

I wanted to schedule surgery as soon as possible.  But with the Thanksgiving weekend looming around the corner, they suggested I wait until Monday, December 2nd.  With reluctance, I agreed. 

However, it turned out for the best.

God knew more than I or the doctors did.

As an employee of the Town of Culpeper, one of my responsibilities was to buff out scratches that build up over time in their facility’s waxed floors.  You see, by buffing the floors with a rough pad, you remove a very thin layer of wax, and the true glory of the floor's finish is revealed.

Strangely enough though, it’s not the floor that catches your eye, but what the floor is reflecting.  As I was buffing the floors, I was constantly trying to see if the fluorescent light tubes which were in the ceiling above were becoming sharper.

The floor was not my focus, what the floor was REFLECTING is what I was focused on.

It's the same thing as looking in a mirror.  You are not actually focused on the mirror itself, you are looking at what the mirror is reflecting.  The only time you actually look at a mirror is when something is wrong with it.  A streak of shaving cream or a dirty hand print distracts from the reflected image.

In those cases, the mirror calls attention to itself.

The day following Dr. Purow’s report, I moped around at work while telling people the “bad news”.

Now I am by nature a very positive person, so my standard response to the question “How are you doing?” is “I’m doing great!”

But that morning I modified my response to “I’m doing very well despite the circumstances.”

After saying this two or three times, God grabbed me by the shirt-collar, yanked me aside, and asked me two questions.

“How are you feeling?  I mean how are you REALLY doing?”

“Um, good actually…”

“Then why are you calling attention to yourself by tacking on that disclaimer?”

He left me to chew on that for a while, and I saw the point He was trying to make.

By calling attention to myself, I was not reflecting the Peace and Joy that God had so graciously given me.

I was not reflecting His Attributes.

I was not reflecting Him.

All the attention was focused on me, Joe.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16, "You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father."

Once again, the afternoon before surgery, I was given fiducial dots and an MRI.  

This time around however, there was an MRI machine in the surgical suite so that in the middle of surgery, they could scan me again to make sure they got out as much of the tumor as possible.  The surgery would take longer because they would have to account for every surgical instrument before firing up the MRI over here.

Strong magnets and very sharp metal objects are not a good combination.

The morning of the procedure, I arrived at the hospital, suited up for surgery, and had my wife and some of my fellow pastors from our sister church, Mosaic, waiting in pre-op with me.

Dr. Asthagiri somberly walked in and asked them to leave for a few minutes.  He then proceeded to share that the MRI had changed since the last one-two weeks ago---a new tumor had grown. It was in an area that was risky and they would try their best with taking the tumor out.

If I had had the surgery soon after the first MRI, the doctors may not have spotted the new, aggressive growth...

And I might not be writing this.

So they performed brain surgery, patched me up, and several days later I was hospitalized again for having multiple seizures at home. At the hospital, the surgeon gave us the news of the biopsy.

It was cancer. A malignant, Grade 4 Glioblastoma; the worst, most aggressive brain cancer. There is currently no cure for this disease, and life expectancy could be anywhere from two months to four years after diagnosis.  Dr. Asthagiri broke this news to us, and before leaving my bedside, said, “Please don’t look up this cancer on the Internet.”

Later on that day, Dr. Purow came by and told us that even though I had certain factors that could extend my life, he couldn't give me a time frame.  “Everybody’s different,” he said.

And so a month after surgery, I went through 30 days of radiation and oral chemotherapy (a pill called Temodar).  Then over the next few months I did several more rounds of Temodar. 

This whole time, we were in a whirlwind of getting paperwork for disability, FMLA, insurance, and trying to get the bank to take back our home. 

We also started planning for my funeral. 

All through this time, God provided for ALL our needs and continues to do so. 

Now remember, I got the Town of Culpeper job the day Isabella was born.

We got the bad news about my tumor coming back, after the weekend of her first birthday.

I had been a Town of Culpeper employee for JUST OVER a year.  Which meant I was eligible for disability retirement benefits, medical insurance, and a disability pension.

God has blessed Kathy and I with co-workers who donated enough sick-leave for three months.  The last day I reported for work was Monday the 27th of November, 2013.  The last paycheck I received from the Town of Culpeper, however, was the 26th of February, 2014. 

That’s THREE months’ worth of sick days on top of the financial gifts we received from the Town of Culpeper, and the Town of Culpeper Police Department.

Our friends helped in so many ways, that I don’t have time to share all of them, except one.

Many came and helped load the moving van, but my supervisor, the Reverend Lanny Horton, agreed to drive the moving van all the way from Culpeper to Miami.

Our families pitched in and helped us get settled.  We are currently residing rent free at a house my sister-in-law owns.

Now it hasn’t all been stress free.

After getting here, we had a time of getting adjusted, I’ve had more seizures, more bills, more paperwork, more calls to the bank.  My body stopped tolerating Temodar, so we had to change my chemotherapy to an IV treatment called Avastin every two weeks.

And Isabella had a seizure the week after Kathy started a new job, so poor Kathy had yet another patient to care for…

But regardless, we have seen the Hand of God through all of this. 

We are a blessed family, and Gateway Baptist Church is among the greatest blessings we've received.  

I was asked by one of the youth here at Gateway about what God wants me to do with this. 

I couldn’t answer at the time, but I think I know now.

John 9:1-3 says,

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. "Rabbi," his disciples asked him, "why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents' sins?"
"It was not because of his sins or his parents' sins," Jesus answered. "This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”

People are amazed about how cheerful I am even with the threat of this incurable disease hanging over me.  But I have peace that can come only from God.  And I believe that I am still alive and healthy to be a showcase for God's Grace. 

“So (that) the power of God might be seen in (me).”

I don't know how long I'll be here.  The truth is, none of us know. 

All my MRI’s have been stable so far.  Each stable MRI gives me a new lease on life.

The beautiful thing about cancer is that it forces you to stop and give thought to what really matters in life.

Our relationship with God, and our relationships with others.  Those are the only things that we can take with us as we pass from death to life.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Breakwaters

This past year has been a whirlwind. The move itself was blessedly uneventful (for me at least). God has made Kathy stronger than she could have ever have believed during this past year. He has been our rock in this storm; a breakwater when the waves threatened to pummel our small family.

In December of 2013 I was diagnosed with Grade 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme (a very aggressive brain cancer that to this date has no cure).  However, the last few MRI's I've had, has shown no tumor growth (Thank You LORD!!!).

Kathy and I have both come to terms with reality. Barring a miracle, I'm only going to live a few to several years longer. Only God knowsBut you see, the real miracles are constantly happening all around us. We need only to keep our eyes open to see them.

A beautiful, loving wife.
A happy, healthy toddler.
The support of our families.
Our little house on the canal.

I have learned to see God in every situation. Every breeze that invigorates me while I walk is sure to send prayers of thanksgiving skyward.

Sure, I've had my ups and downs. I've had to change chemo regimens, as well as my seizure medications. And lately I've had issues with forgetting things (not that my mind was a steel-trap before). But for the most part, my mind is clearer, and I am grateful for it.

Not bad for a guy with a terminal brain cancer diagnosis.

I have never felt better since my diagnosis and am on a plan to stay healthy. I'm walking more, eating better and going to the gym. I will not just “give up” and let my life spiral out of control. I have come to realize how precious life truly is.

You see, every morning I awake and realize that I have been given one more day to live (sometimes I don't figure this out before my morning cup of Cuban Coffee). Every day I hold dear, every moment that I can spend with my wife and my daughter, I consider priceless.

People wonder how it is possible for me to have such joy in the face of death. My faith in Christ is my wall and shield. I'm safely kept in His Hands.

He will protect me from the storm.

“Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I'll stand.”*


Joe Boronat



*Owl City - “In Christ Alone”

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Reflecting Grace

As an employee of the Town of Culpeper, one of my responsibilities is to buff out scratches that build up over time in our facility’s waxed floors.

You see, by buffing the floors with a rough pad, you remove a very thin layer of wax, and the true glory of the floor's finish is revealed.

Strangely enough though, it is not the floor that catches your eye, but what the floor is reflecting.  As I am buffing the floors, I constantly try to see if the fluorescent light tubes which are in the ceiling above are becoming sharper.

The floor is not my focus, what the floor is REFLECTING is what I’m focused on.

It's the same thing as looking in a mirror.  You are not actually focused on the mirror itself, you are looking at what the mirror is reflecting.  The only time you actually look at a mirror is when something is wrong with it.  A streak of shaving cream or a dirty handprint distracts from the reflected image.

In these cases, the mirror calls attention to itself.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to bring glory to God by doing good works.  But how can you reflect the attributes of God without calling attention to yourself?

This past week I learned that my brain tumor has returned and I will be having another brain surgery on December 2, 2013 to see exactly what type and grade it is.  This will be followed by specific chemotherapy and radiation treatments to eliminate or shrink as much of the tumor as possible.

I was expecting this, as the doctors told us that there would be a 95% chance of the tumor returning, but it still was a surprise.  The following day at work, I moped around while telling people the “bad news”.

Now I am by nature a very positive person, so it goes to reason that my standard response to the question “How are you doing?” is “I’m doing great!”

But that morning I modified my response to “I’m doing very well despite the circumstances.”

After saying this two or three times, God grabbed me by the shirt-collar, yanked me aside, and asked me two questions.

“How are you feeling?  I mean how are you REALLY doing?”

“Um, good actually…”

“Then why are you calling attention to yourself by tacking on that disclaimer?”

He left me to chew on that for a while and I saw the point He was trying to make.

By calling attention to myself, I was not reflecting the Peace and Joy that God had so graciously given me.

I was not reflecting His Attributes.

I was not reflecting Him.

All the attention was focused on me, Joe.

The purpose of life is not to call attention to ourselves; it is to be a display of God's Grace.

What circumstances is The Lord using to "polish you up" so others may see Him more clearly?  Are we calling attention to ourselves or shining His Glory?

Joe Boronat

Matthew 5:14-16 (NLTSE)
"You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father."

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Stone of Help

On my former boss’s bookshelf sat a piece of metal cut from a doorframe.  Along one of its edges it had a circular depression as if something small and round had tried to punch its way through.

That piece of deformed metal on his bookshelf was a reminder of God's help.

You see, several months earlier, he had been going about his business one Wednesday evening when he heard several loud bangs coming from the foyer of the church.  He knew that there was a teen rally going on in the sanctuary, but peeked out of the office to see what was up.

He saw a stranger wearing a black shirt and dark jeans down the hallway with a gun in his hand.  The stranger pointed the gun at him, and pulled the trigger.

All he saw was the muzzle-flash.  The bullet that was meant for him hit the doorframe instead.  He ducked back inside the office and called 911.

The gunman committed suicide, but not until after killing seven people and wounding seven more.

That twisted piece of metal was a reminder to my boss that God wasn't done with him yet.

It was an Ebenezer.

-------

My small hands firmly grasped the steel pipe that jutted several feet in the air.  I believe I was still in elementary school at the time. 

A while earlier (days, weeks, or months), a huge crane had been in our backyard and had slowly been driving sections of steel pipe into the ground beside our house. 

It was to be our well, but they never hit water.

My father was using an electric saws-all to cut the top off of the steel pipe.  Now a saws-all puts out a tremendous amount of cutting force which leads to major vibration as well as heat.  My job was to keep the steel pipe steady as he cut.

I remember I was looking down and hoping that the steel pipe would not fall off and hit me.  Something inside urged me to turn my head.

I moved my head just as it broke free.

Sizzling past my ear, it plummeted down and smacked the earth with a dull thud.

That memory is an Ebenezer to me.


1 Samuel 7:7-13
“When the Philistine rulers heard that Israel had gathered at Mizpah, they mobilized their army and advanced. The Israelites were badly frightened when they learned that the Philistines were approaching. "Don't stop pleading with the LORD our God to save us from the Philistines!" they begged Samuel. So Samuel took a young lamb and offered it to the LORD as a whole burnt offering. He pleaded with the LORD to help Israel, and the LORD answered him.

Just as Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines arrived to attack Israel. But the LORD spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven that day, and the Philistines were thrown into such confusion that the Israelites defeated them. The men of Israel chased them from Mizpah to a place below Beth-car, slaughtering them all along the way.

Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah.  He named it Ebenezer (which means "the stone of help"), for he said, "Up to this point the LORD has helped us!"

So the Philistines were subdued and didn't invade Israel again for some time. And throughout Samuel's lifetime, the LORD's powerful hand was raised against the Philistines.”

-------

We ALL have Ebenezer’s in our lives.  Times that we KNOW God has helped us out of major harm or distress.  An Ebenezer is defined as a “Stone of Help.”  A marker that we can look back on and remember exactly when and where the Lord’s Hand was with us.

I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in July of 2011.  I have a picture of the MRI that shows the large dark mass.  Thanks to the prayers of many people as well as the skill of the neurosurgeons, I was completely healed.

That picture is another Ebenezer to me. 

One of many.

Now there may be some people who don’t believe as we do.  They might believe that their specific belief system is right and everyone else is wrong. 

Some people don’t believe anything that they cannot see or touch. 

Others think that religion is only a crutch for the weak. 

What about them?  Does God bless them too?


Acts 14:8-18
“While they were at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas came upon a man with crippled feet. He had been that way from birth, so he had never walked. He was sitting and listening as Paul preached. Looking straight at him, Paul realized he had faith to be healed. So Paul called to him in a loud voice, "Stand up!" And the man jumped to his feet and started walking.

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in their local dialect, "These men are gods in human form!" They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus and that Paul was Hermes, since he was the chief speaker. Now the temple of Zeus was located just outside the town. So the priest of the temple and the crowd brought bulls and wreaths of flowers to the town gates, and they prepared to offer sacrifices to the apostles.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting, "Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings–just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. In the past he permitted all the nations to go their own ways, but he never left them without evidence of himself and his goodness. For instance, he sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts." But even with these words, Paul and Barnabas could scarcely restrain the people from sacrificing to them.”

-------

May God bless you with an Ebenezer, a reminder of His Power, Mercy and Grace to keep your faith strong in Him all your days.


Joe

Friday, August 2, 2013

What's in a Name?

The world media has waited for the royal birth of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s baby even before she was pregnant. That vigil ended on July 22, 2013 when His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge met the world. He sits third in succession to the throne of England and stands to inherit not just the English Crown, but an estimated 1 Billion Pounds.

Let’s just say my job title is not that upscale.

I have worked for the Town of Culpeper as a full-time Housekeeper since November of 2012. This is the position that I interviewed for the day before Kathy gave birth to Isabella. It’s full-time with benefits, and God has surrounded me with great people. The hours are flexible which made it possible for me to stay at home during the day with Isabella during the first few months of her life.

“Housekeeping!” I’d say loudly as I knocked and entered female restrooms over the course of my work week. But as of July 1, 2013 my job title changed from “Housekeeper” to “Building & Grounds Maintenance Technician.” So whenever I knock now, I say “Maintenance!”

Scrubbing toilets for a living isn’t fun, but it’s an honest job that keeps a roof over our heads and food on the table. Many people in this economy have not been as blessed as I have. Some people feel sorry for me. Others can’t understand how I can stay so cheerful as I go about my rounds. A few weeks ago, as I was cleaning up the Police Station, a fellow Town employee looked at me with disbelief and stated, “You must really love your job.”

“It’s people that I love,” I replied with a smile. “Your attitude determines your happiness.”

You see, I don’t see myself as a custodian; it’s just what I do to earn a living for my family. I feel sorry for people who allow their job title to determine their identity. Yes, I am the Cleaning Guy. My other names include Joe, Joseph, Dada, Pastor, Joey, Uncle Joe, and Dan Marino (my buddy from the gym who happens to be a Buffalo Bills fan calls me this). These are all different names in differing contexts of relationships, but my most important title is Child of God.

Now I didn’t earn this name, it just came into clear focus one day along my spiritual journey when I realized that Jesus died for my sins. That His Blood cleansed my stained conscience. I not only had a fresh start then, but I wake up each day to a new beginning. I walk with my head held up high. Not because what I have done, but because what He has done for me.

My sojourn upon this world may never be as glamorous as a British Royal, but I have been adopted by the King of Kings and I stand to share in His Inheritance now walking with Him, as well as throughout eternity.

Joe

John 1:10-12
He came into the very world he created, but the world didn't recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.

Colossians 1:19-22
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ's blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

Hebrews 10:19-25
And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven's Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God's house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ's blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pick A Number

Growing up as a Boronat, my family and I would often camp with my godparents in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.  We shared great memories, like hiking down Kaaterskill Falls, roasting our food over an open fire, and nearly freezing to death each night as the temperatures plummeted.  Then we had the not-so-great memories.  For example, my godfather, Tio Adolfo, would always ask us the same question when a chore needed to be accomplished.

"Pick a number between one and one-hundred."

"Seven, twenty-five, sixty-four (or some other number)," I or one of my siblings would answer.

"THAT IS THE RIGHT NUMBER!" he would cackle in reply, and then summarily send us off to whatever the task might be.

I thought I had figured out a loop hole when I answered him using a letter of the alphabet.

“THAT'S STILL THE RIGHT NUMBER!"

It was pretty unfair, or so I thought.  Life, it turns out, doesn’t seem fair.

Some people seem to coast through their lives on a couch of ease while the majority of others scrabble around, trying to piece together a living.  How can it be that children die of malnutrition?  And how is it that many people who would make GREAT parents cannot have children of their own?  What about those who get cancer or other diseases?

Why do “bad” things happen to “good” people?

“Religion” does not answer this basic question of existence.  Only God knows why He allows certain things to happen in our lives. 

But we can rest assured that while life may not seem fair at times, God is good and is in the process of making all things new.

Over the next few months, we are going to embark on a journey through the Book of Job.  We’ll be wrestling with many questions regarding the nature of suffering.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

New Beginnings

Recently, as I was working on my taxes, my home computer stopped responding and then displayed the dreaded “Blue Screen of Death”. If you have ever used a Windows computer that suddenly crashed, you know that sinking feeling that always accompanies the following white words on a blue screen…

“Your computer has experienced a serious malfunction and is now shutting down to prevent more damage...”

Then the screen informs you that it has begun a “core dump”. It’s at this point that I ram my finger against the power button and watch with dismay as the screen blinks off.

For SOME reason, the Blue Screen of Death never appears when I’m doing something mundane like surfing the web.

I sighed, shook my head, and attempted to boot it up again; but something was seriously wrong with my computer. The information on my hard drive was fine, but it couldn’t be used to boot my computer up.

I needed a new hard drive.

I bit the bullet and purchased a new drive with twice the capacity of the old one. The process of reinstalling Windows took the better part of a day, and it took several more days before I finished installing all the programs and respective updates.

But you know what? My computer runs A LOT faster now than it did before.

There really is something special to having a fresh start. This spring has come early in more ways than one. I’m back to writing. I’m back to giving out coffee in the mornings to day laborers waiting for work. And I’m back to being a pastor again.

However, all this is viewed through a different perspective. If I have learned anything from the process of recovering from brain surgery, it has taught me to take nothing for granted.

Nothing.

Each morning, I draw aside the shades and peer out of the sliding glass door to catch a glimpse of the pre-dawn darkness.

Each dawn I witness is a special gift from God.

All this would mean nothing if it were not for Jesus. It has been many years since I gave my life to Him. Many years since I left the pain of knowing how worthless I was, and yet still, He died for my sins.

Many years since I truly believed.

Since that day, I’ve had many ups and downs, but the Holy Spirit has been my constant companion.

I am reminded of the story of “Footprints”. A man and God are walking along a beach revisiting the man’s life. As they walk, he sees his life’s high points and low valleys and is troubled by the fact that there is only one set of footprints in the valleys. He asks the LORD why He would leave him during the most difficult times, the times he needed help the most. “No my son,” the Lord gently corrects him, “it is in the valleys that I carried you.”

That first Easter morning, more than 2000 years ago, a fresh start was set in place. The sins of the past, the present and future no longer hold us in bondage. On the Cross, Jesus took the punishment we deserved for our sin. This Easter morning, we are reminded of His deliverance from the grip of death, the same deliverance promised to all who believe.

The LORD is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

Joe

Related Verses
Lamentations 3:22-26

The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, "The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!" The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD.

John 20:1-18
The Resurrection

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, "They have taken the Lord's body out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn't go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus' head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed–for until then they still hadn't understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. Then they went home.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. "Dear woman, why are you crying?" the angels asked her.

"Because they have taken away my Lord," she replied, "and I don't know where they have put him."
She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn't recognize him. "Dear woman, why are you crying?" Jesus asked her. "Who are you looking for?"

She thought he was the gardener. "Sir," she said, "if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him."
"Mary!" Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, "Rabboni!" (which is Hebrew for "Teacher").
"Don't cling to me," Jesus said, "for I haven't yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, "I have seen the Lord!" Then she gave them his message.