In Honor of Rocco

30790_1466906042615_492214_nLast night my family and I had to make the very difficult decision to let our boxer Rocco go.  To say that we are just devastated would be pretty accurate.  I wanted to share a little about his story partly to have it out there, but also because at the moment, it seems a good way to deal with my own grief and as I watch my family grieve.  This post will be pretty long so just wanted to put that out there.  I know a lot of people have varied view on pets and animals.  All we know is this: Rocco was dearly loved and knew it.  And he loved his family, too.  Beyond us, you would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t love Rocco, too, after meeting him.  He was a special dog, indeed.  He certainly set the bar high for any pet.  If every family could experience a pet like him, they would understand what I’m saying for themselves.

Several months ago he started having serious issues with what seemed to be his hips and back and was placed on an anti-inflammatory (and at times aspirin) along with glucosamine which really seemed to help him get up from laying down and move about a little better.

Fast forward to about 2 weeks ago, and his health seem to deteriorate pretty quickly.  He had increasing problems just getting up, his legs would buckle at times when walking, the “boxer wiggle” and even wagging his nub were gone (which is unusual if you know boxers and especially if you knew Rocco), he had increasing bouts of incontinence, and would often just stand and have a 1,000 yard stare about him.  He would often during the night be circling, walking around.  We came to find out that more than likely he was in severe pain in his back.  We did some blood tests and although he did have a slightly low thyroid, there were just a number of other things going on that didn’t seem to fit just a low thyroid.  The vet and our family had suspicions that something neurological was going on based on his behavior.  Boxers at that age often have tumors or lesions in the brain so that would certainly be a possibility.  He was placed on several medications to try to help him including a steroid.  At first he seemed to be responding well but then seem to deteriorate as the higher dosage of steroid was tapered off.  So the vet wanted to elevate that back up, which we did.  He seemed to respond okay again. Then two days ago, he again started to go downhill.  The same issues he had been struggling with returned and seemed to even be worse.  Last night it got to the point where we couldn’t get him to get up on his own although he did at one point when my parents came over (he just loved my dad).  He had been heavy breathing and panting for about two days and last night at times started whimpering.  We made the decision that it was time and that we had done what we could.  After consulting with the ER Vet, we surmised that even with possible X-Rays, surgeries, etc. that there was no guarantee that his quality of life would be better or even good.  We all said our very tearful goodbyes, and then Rocco went peacefully to sleep at about 11:30 pm.

Rocco was a big boxer (95 lbs, give or take) and was just so full of life.  He was about 9.5 years old, and he lived a very full and happy life.  The average lifespan of a boxer is around 9-10 years or so according to the experts.  I say that he was “about 9.5 years old” because that’s what we can best guess from when we got him. You see, Rocco was a rescue that we adopted through Carolina Boxer Rescue (CBR).  We had been considering adopting a boxer for a while, and had been looking at the website a good bit at available boxers.  We had seen Rocco’s photo on the website, but to be honest, he looked pretty bad.  In fact, we said to ourselves at one point “That poor dog. We wonder what family would EVEN consider adopting him.”  Well…..that would eventually be us.  Each adopting family has to have an interview with one of the staff from CBR to make sure that your yard is fenced and probably to make sure you can care for a pet. They would bring boxers that were being fostered with them to get them used to visits even if a family wasn’t going to adopt that particular boxer.  We still think that was a setup btw. 😉  So, they had named Rocco already and brought him along for the visit.  Rocco had been found wandering the streets and was eaten up with mange before coming to CBR.  He was almost 3/4 the way through his treatments for mange when he came to visit us.  So the lady from CBR brought Rocco inside, and he looked a good bit different from the photos we had seen online.  What a sweet dog he was.  We were watching Rocco with our kids as he played with them out back.  He was having a blast.  Probably the pivotal moment was when Rocco and Spencer were together, and Spencer said to Rocco, “Sit”.  On the spot, Rocco sat.  One of those moments where both Kim and I glanced at each other like “Hmm, this could be something.”  With Spencer being autistic and 5 years old at the time, finding the right fit for him was going to be important, in addition to being a right fit with the rest of our family. The visit ended and the CBR lady left with Rocco.  Kim and I looked at each other, and said, “Well, what about Rocco?”  We both decided that he was the one we wanted to adopt.  A little bit later, Rocco became an official part of our family.

Rocco truly was “Man’s Best Friend”.  He was an incredible blessing to our family, and I think that we were to him as well.  He was with our family through some really dark days and some really great ones, too. I think that the hardest part is dealing with the reality that I won’t hear his tag jingle as he walks around, I walk into rooms where he would lay, and he isn’t there anymore.  I miss my friend.  I will miss taking him for walks, petting on his soft head and ears, greeting us when we got home and chasing our fat cat Max around as he played.  Last night involved a lot of tearful prayers from our family as we gave thanks to God for the blessing Rocco was to our lives.  None of us wanted to go inside last night when we returned home because we knew how that would feel at first: Empty.  Yet, we sat down inside and were able to talk about some of the happy times we had with Rocco and what he meant to each of us.  He was very loved and will be deeply missed.  Sleep well, my friend.


A Key To A Successful Relationship

This past weekend Kim and I had a chance to celebrate 20 years of marriage by traveling to the Biltmore House and Estate in Asheville, NC.  This place holds special meaning for us as it was one of our stops on our honeymoon.  We haven’t been back since so it was cool to see how the estate and the surrounding area has grown since.

After we toured the estate, we went out to dinner to finish out the day.  While we were discussing a number of things, Kim asked me, “So, what do you think is the ‘secret’ to us being together for 20 years?”  I had to think about it for a minute because that is a pretty involved question.  I told her that I think there are a number of factors that I think contributed to our 20 years of marriage.  In the practical though, one practice did stand out that I think is HUGE for any relationship.  Here’s what it is: Continue reading

By Faith

Hello…Hello….is this thing on?…

Well, I had seriously considered shutting down the blog, but I held off just because I thought there might be a remote chance I would want to blog later on.  This has always been a place where I’ve shared thoughts and ideas that are swimming in my head. So although it’s been a while, here’s the latest.

leap-of-faithThis morning I was reading through Hebrews 11:8-16.  Some would call it the “Hall of Faith” because it goes through several lives of people in the Bible that lived and took action “by faith”.  In fact, that phrase “by faith” appears 4 times in this short passage.

You can read the passage for yourself.  While I’m always struck by the amount of faith each person had and acted on, in my mind, Abraham’s always stands out: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (v8)

That is incredible faith.  It’s not just incredible, it’s dangerous.  It’s the kind of faith that would make some look at you like you’ve lost it.  Even other believers in Christ will think that of you.  It’s not “prudent”. It’s not “wise”.  I’m not throwing out wisdom and prudence.  It’s just that so often faith seems to go against the grain of what would be deemed as wisdom and prudence.

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Small Groups and Church Staff

Let me preface this post by saying that this is in no way meant to be an attempt to tear down church leadership nor is it directed at any church leadership in particular.  Rather, this is a post to speak about the reality of being on a church staff, some retrospect in my own journey and to possibly be a voice for some church staff who have and are going through this reality.  This Augusta 31st marks one year since my last day (for now) as a vocational church staff member.  I’ve had some time over these past 9 months to process my experience as a full time church staff member, and it’s been particularly interesting during that time to view things as now we’re plugged into ministry and our church from a non-staff person’s perspective.  Let me say that I believe fully that the local church is God’s Plan A and there is no other plan.  I love the local church.

As Kim and I have become small group leaders at our church, it’s been so exciting to be able to meet together with a group of people each week and dig in to the Bible, get to know each other, and slowly be transparent about life….the good and the bad.  It’s about being involved in Biblical community.  Probably one of the best phrases I’ve heard to describe this is “doing life together.”  That’s what small groups and Biblical community should be like.  It’s about being real, being authentic and where appropriate, transparent….get the picture?

Now, here’s what I would say from my observation and experience over the years: A lot, if not most, church staff members (and their spouse if married) struggle with “doing life together” in Biblical community and small groups within the church they serve.

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A little update on us

I’m having to dust the cob webs off of this puppy as it has been so long since I posted anything.  That’s what happens when things happen really fast, and you’re doing good just to hang on 🙂

Much has happened in the life of my family since my last blog post.  Here’s the latest on the world of Jones and some commentary on it:

  • In November we finally got a contract on our house in Aiken.  We feel very blessed in that so many home sales fall through for one reason for another, but the sale of our home made it through.  It ended up taking right at 6 months or so to sell which isn’t too bad at all.
  • With a contract on our home, we started looking for a new house in North Augusta.  We were wanting to move to North Augusta for a number of reasons including we love the place, wanted to get more central to the rest of the CSRA (for those outside of this area, that stands for the Central Savannah River Area and includes areas in both Georgia and SC), and wanted to be closer to our new church community at True North.  So, we started looking around and didn’t find anything.  We had pretty much began to think we would end up renting until the spring.  We had two homes on a Sunday that we were scheduled to look at.  The second house we went to look at was the one we ended up purchasing.  We love the space and the location in North Augusta and are working right now on a number of remodeling projects.
  • We ended up closing on both homes December 20th which as you can imagine had a number of challenges.  Moving is hard enough.  Moving during the Christmas season is borderline insanity.  Yet, that’s the way it worked out, and we ended up making it through.  We’re still wading through the boxes, but it’s getting less and less.
  • Business is going well overall right now as we’re working with a number of previous and new clients.  Excited for the coming months for both Alive Media and 4Thought.
  • It’s been right at a year since we began praying and planning where we thought we were headed.  This time last year, we began to put down on paper where we wanted to be in life a year from now.  We were specific as we could be in some areas of that plan and general in others.  The order in which things happened changed a bit, but it’s amazing to me to look back and see that almost every single one of those goals has been achieved.  That’s a testament to the grace of God.
  • My encouragement to you would be to not just have a goal in mind but to actually put it down on paper.  Type it out, be specific as specific as you can, set out a plan of action and move forward in taking steps to accomplish it.  Spend some time in prayer as you do that and ask God to give you wisdom and direction.  Then, share your plan with a trusted friend or two that will 1. Keep it in confidence and 2. Be real with you and give you honest feedback both positive and negative.
  • That’s it for now.  Gotta go….there’s a box of stuff calling my name to be unpacked still. l8r

Our Big News

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

I was in my early 20’s when someone first asked me “Are you planning on being a youth pastor forever?” My response was typically “Well, I think before it’s all said and done, I’ll end up doing a little bit of everything.”  I always thought that was an odd question to ask.  Not because  people don’t stay in student ministry for life, but because following Jesus and belonging to Him means that I didn’t just surrender to an area of ministry, I surrendered to Jesus Christ.  At some point He may call us to something that doesn’t look like student ministry.  I didn’t realize in my early 20’s how true that would be.  I’ve had the privilege of serving in student ministry, church media and a whole lot of different experiences that run the whole gamut of ministry.  And now, we’re about to take another turn in the road.

In May of this year, I sat down with Phillip, my pastor, and told him that our season of ministry at Cedar Creek has come to an end.  I asked him if he would be willing to work with us through a transition period, and he very graciously agreed.  So, that transition period is almost up as my last day as Creative Director at Cedar Creek Church will be August 31st.  This wasn’t an easy decision for us, and it came after much prayer, counsel and A LOT of soul searching.

Now, let me just say a few things: Jesus and I are good.  My wife and I are good.  Cedar Creek and I are good.  This has been a process in me that has been developing over the last several years.  So, if you’re looking for some juicy details, I got nothing for ya 🙂  While the last several years have been really difficult at times, I think that is the process that God often uses to move us on.  If we were always comfortable and content, none of us would change or move.

Here’s what’s up next for us:
Over the last decade plus, I’ve developed 2 businesses that I have operated in addition to my work at Cedar Creek.  Alive Media is my web, graphic and video production company that caters to businesses, churches and non profits.  4Thought Media is my company where i develop media (sermon illustrations, video countdowns, motion backgrounds, powerpoint games, and still images) for churches to use in varying ministry settings. I will be launching these businesses into a full time capacity.  We will also begin expanding our video production for businesses as well as partnering with churches to serve as a “Creative Team” for churches that may not have that or even to be a creative resource for those that do.

Also, as I’ve been praying over our next steps, the words “leave margin” keep coming to mind.  I believe that there is another piece to the puzzle that isn’t fully in focus yet, but as we go along, we are trusting that the Lord will make that clear.  I do plan on doing some fill in speaking for pastors and churches that need a break or need a fill in guy, maybe some speaking at student ministry events if that opens up. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like, either, but it sounds fun to me.

I did want to publicly say thanks to some people at Cedar Creek that have been a part of my 13 years of ministry there and have made an impact in my life:

  • Richard Swift – I want to thank you for taking a chance on this really young student pastor way back in the day.  Thank you for stepping out in faith in starting Cedar Creek and for being a leader that others would want to imitate.  You are a giant in my book.
  • Phillip Lee – Thank you for your friendship through the years and for working with me as God worked IN me.  I’m excited for you as God continues to lead Cedar Creek through you.
  • Wes Holbrook – You were a brother to me in some very dark days.  In the desert, you were God’s mouthpiece saying, “Don’t setup camp…Keep walking.”  Love you bro.
  • Danny Neu – You were the first Student Ministry staff that we had in addition to me.  Multi-talented and a servant’s heart.  I’m so thankful to have you as my friend.  Many adventures we’ve had, many more to come I’m sure.
  • Kay Stanley aka K-Bird – Still remember those days in the “Old Post Office” downtown where it was Richard, you, Travis and me.  I think you will end up outlasting all of us 😉  Thank you for going above and beyond and being the face of Jesus to so many.
  • Susan Reck – I’ll never look at a green piece of paper the same way again.  Thank you for going to bat for my family and for keeping the church’s books on target all of these years.
  • Walter Ray – I leave the creative department at CCC in very capable hands.  While I love seeing how God is using you in ministry, the real joy to me is watching you follow Jesus and grow into the man of God you are becoming.
  • Kidz Creek and Centerpoint – Thank you for investing in my kids for all of these years.  Thank you that you not only shared with my kids the Gospel, but also “your very lives as well”. (1 Thess. 2:8)
  • Samantha Thames, Tiffany Stewart, Terry Lee and the GRACE Kidz Staff and Volunteers – I have no evidence of this from Scripture, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if in Heaven there is a place of honor for those that minister to and care for children and people with special needs.  Thank you that you saw a need, that your heart was broken for that need, that you listened to Jesus and made it possible for my son and other children with special needs to know and experience Christ. I don’t have enough words to thank you.

Here’s how you can help:
Pray – We really would appreciate your prayers for our family, especially over the next several months.  This is a HUGE transition, and we’re leaning in to Christ as much as we know how.  Here are some things that we’re praying about that we would invite you to join us in:

1. Clients and the right projects – Obviously we need clients on an ongoing basis (business, church and non profit) to pay the bills, so pray that we would make connections with clients that are a good fit.  Also, pray that the Lord would bring out the creativity in us as we develop new scripts, projects and ideas.
2. Partnership – I really see working with a group of people (2 or 3…maybe more) with Alive Media and 4Thought Media to move them both toward becoming a studio of sorts.  These people would have to be the right mix of talent, heart and we’d have to work well together.  Pray that God would help me make those connections and raise up the right people.
3. House to sell – Right now our house is for sale…a tall order in this market.  Pray that we would get a good offer, preferably from a pre-approved buyer.
4. Transition – Pray for each of us the next several months will be a lot of transition.  Pray that we will all transition well.

Help us get the word out – The most effective marketing in my opinion is word-of-mouth.  If you know someone that is looking for a new website, video production, graphics help, etc., pass my name on to them.

While this is a big step of faith for us, we’re definitely excited about the road ahead.  Here we go.

AJ Mind Dump

So it’s been a little bit since my previous post.  Wanted to give you a quick update in the world of Jones:

  • As you can see in the post below, our house is on the market.  It has now been listed for a little over a month.  We’ve had a good bit of traffic, especially over the last several weeks.  Selling a house is WORK!  Here’s hoping that July is our month.
  • Kim started a job working for the Aiken County Government last month.  She’s really enjoying what she’s doing so that is a plus!  While it’s been an adjustment for everyone, the family seems to be doing well with it.
  • We took our family vacation earlier than usual this summer.  It was really kind of an odd one in that Kim was only able to be there for about 3 days before having to head back to work.  So, for much of the week it was me, my kids and my parents.  It was good to get away, and I’m already wanting to hit the beach again soon…maybe a day trip to Kiawah Island in July?
  • This is about the time of year I start seriously craving some college football…and the cooler temps with it!  Don’t know how my DAWGS are going to do this year.  Tons of potential there, but you have to get it done on the field.  Another year like last year and there will be some changes at the top.  Just the nature of things.
  • Really excited about the direction that Alive Media and 4Thought Media are going.  Got some cool projects that I’m working on right now and some exciting things coming down the road.
  • Speaking of projects, one of the things I’m wanting to do more of is videography for events and weddings.  If you know of someone that is getting hitched in July or August, let me know.  I’m looking for a couple of weddings that I can video and edit to expand the portfolio, and it won’t cost them a dime.  Hit the contact me for details or message me on Twitter/Facebook.
  • Kim and I were talking today and she said, “Can you believe that in two years Spencer will be in middle school?”  I about fell out.
  • Well, that’s all for now.  l8r

AJ Mind Dump – Vacation Edition

  • We spent the last week in North Myrtle Beach for some much needed vacation time and had an absolutely great time.
  • Love spending so much time on the actual beach.  Last few years, by the time that I got the umbrellas, chairs, blankets and cooler setup, 20 minutes later Spencer would be ready for the pool.  This year we boogie boarded, dug around in the sand and just chilled on the beach for hours at a time.
  • I have so many great memories from when I was a kid and we would ride waves all day long.  To see my kids having a blast doing the same was so much fun.  Kind of full circle.
  • Internet was sketchy for the week so I was mostly unplugged for most of the week….and it was great.  I think next year I’m totally disconnecting.
  • Ummm…I think I need to repent of gluttony for the week.  So much food…and I’m not even going to discuss the late night runs to Krispy Kreme
  • People lose their ever-loving minds when driving while at the beach.  It’s like life or death for some trying to find their perfect parking spot at places like broadway at the beach and barefoot landing.  Must confess, had a little fun with one guy that was determined to get that spot at barefoot landing. 😉
  • What is up with Ohio and Myrtle Beach?  TONS of plates from there.
  • My parents came down for four days and it was a lot of fun to have them down with us.  Also got to see my uncle while I was there.  Haven’t seen him in a long time.
  • Saw Toy Story 3 in 3d while there. Great flick.
  • Kim took the flip cam down along with her camera.  Got some good footage that I’ll be putting together and posting on the blog later.
  • Back to reality tomorrow.

my mom was always talking to herself….

I remember it clearly.  We would be going somewhere, anywhere.  Driving around in our 76 Cutlass and later an Oldsmobile 88, my brother Ken and I in the back seat…sometimes just me.  My mom would start whispering, talking to herself it seemed.  I was a young kid and always thought it was funny…and different.  “Mom, who are you talking to?”  Her reply: “Oh…just talking to myself”.  I know now what she was doing.  Today, I found myself doing the same thing and instantly having a flashback to those times.

While I’m sure at times she could have been saying under her breath, “Just wait till I get these boys home…” or something like that, I’m fairly certain she was praying.  See, my mom loves Jesus today and she did back then as well.  She was murmuring prayers, whispering them as she was driving.  I’m at the point where I’m understanding that more.  It’s those prayers when things on the inside of your mind are desperate, feeling helpless.  Maybe it’s for your child that is struggling at school, a financial crunch, a dealine that you fear you’re not going to make, a relationship that is struggling, or a job where you feel like you’re losing your mind.  It’s the kind of prayer where you’re basically saying, “God, if you don’t come through, I’m dead meat.”

One of the things I said in an earlier post was that I wanted to increase the amount of prayers I mumble through the day…trying to be not only consistent, but more deliberately constant.  I never put that together with my mom’s own “prayer mumbling” until today.  I’m hoping to join a long line of mumblers and pass it down, too.

Pray without ceasing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:17