The gift of peace

In my current journey to understand intentionality one thing has become clear: things are not always as they seem. Maybe that sounds cliche but I have become much more aware of this reality as my recent counseling sessions dig deep into my motives. Finding meaning in past experiences has helped me recognize this throughline that runs in me. If intentionality was attached to a need for control, the fear of losing control is rooted in my corrupt sense of value for myself. The way to overcome this is peace.

Recognizing fear

It’s hard to talk about fear. The feeling of ‘fear’ is a symptom deep in someone’s gut. It paralyzes us. It makes us doubt ourselves. It keeps us from being who we truly are and who we were meant to be. In many ways fear has the power to stop you in your tracks without ever doing anything. It just makes you think of all that could go wrong.

Fear revealed itself to me in my early years. Whether it was the bully who gained control of my actions in middle school or the lack of support from bosses who lead through intimidation, fear took root in much of my life; making me not even notice it. And almost like a chess game, that fear made me calculate my every move in the hopes of avoiding disappointment and pain.

Finding peace

If fear makes you unsure of yourself, peace makes you comfortable with the outcome. While it’s popular to think that courage is the opposite of fear, I believe it’s peace that truly negates it. Courage then becomes a reflection of that peace which gives you freedom to take action.

Peace became real to me during my teenage years as I entered high school. It was peace that helped me overcome the bullies and see beyond the shortcomings of bad bosses. It was peace that made me understand the richness in each experience. Not that I wanted to experience hurt or frustration, but peace helped me see these occurrences not as defining moments but as learning opportunities. And in that sense, peace brings a freedom that is hard to describe.

Describing peace through Jesus

Peace become real to me when I was introduced to Jesus. Yes, that same Jesus who Christmas is all about. The people of his time also battled fear and their courage to speak truth and live in truth was only unlocked because they saw peace. Living and breathing peace. Jesus’ promise of a full life didn’t mean a life with no problems; it meant a life where we grow in those problems; a life that we appreciate because regardless of what happens we are safe in Him. I am rediscovering this truth and there is no better season to do it then Christmas. I hope you enjoy the gift of peace He brings to you and me.


Rediscovering my value

Living with intentionality can be powerful. But sometimes that power can break your spirit as you lose track of why you gained so much focus in the first place. My recent journey in understanding the impacts of a life lived with intentionality led me to an uncomfortable place. A place where I didn’t have all the answers and where I was not fully in control. But sometimes it’s okay to sit in the uncomfortable; to lack the words that express fully how one feels. It’s in those moments that we identify what is truly valuable.

As I look back on my life I’ve always made an effort to see value in others; an appreciation that makes me give the best version of myself. In many ways that is how intentionality has become such a central point in my life. But somewhere in this process I forgot the value that I carried for myself. The recognition that I was worth it. Thankfully my wife noticed this acknowledgment that was lacking in me and she gifted me with a trip back home. A trip 14 years in the making. A trip that set me on a path to rediscover my own value.

Value in word

My trip to Portugal became real when I realized that the excitement in my heart was echoing in my brothers heart as well. To experience the sights and sounds that I grew up with was exhilarating; to do it with him was emotional. I didn’t know what to expect. Over the years we’ve had our disagreements. Our misunderstandings. Even our extended period of time when silence was the only sound between us. This unknown was a question on my value as a brother; as an uncle; even as a friend.

I stood in our parents living room when the door bell rang. He ran to me when we locked eyes and in that same place that saw us grow old we hugged for the first time in a decade. I will never forget that hug. Nor the kisses on my cheek. Nor the words that he spoke. “I missed you my little brother. I’ve missed you so much. And I am so thankful you are here.

My brother and I

Value in touch

This trip to Portugal also allowed me to lock eyes with other members of my family. There are many who have played an important part in my life but none made me feel as nostalgic as my cousin Fatinha. I didn’t know it until we were reunited but she was the one who made kindness a real truth in my life. You see Fatinha can’t talk. Injured with cerebral palsy due to a complicated birth she would be permanently constrained to communicate with gestures and unique sounds that would provide her meaning.

I got a chance to visit her at the facility she lives in and to see her smile of pure joy was so worth it. I remember the summers we would spend at the pool. I remember the times I would pull her on her tube across the water as she just relaxed. I remember her smile as we would lay on our beach towels and I would talk to her about my day. She didn’t say anything and she didn’t need to. Her presence was enough to remind me of her value in my life and my value in hers.

Fatinha and I

Value in time

On my last day before returning to the States my Mom reminded me of someone she had recently seen and who had asked for me: my elementary school teacher. The last time I saw her I was heading to college and it was over 20 years ago. But still, she remembered me. And I remembered her.

On our way to a restaurant we decided to stop by and say hi. She still lived in the same house and as I rang the doorbell she recognized me and immediately told me how much taller I was. She welcomed me in her home and we spent a good time talking about our lives. What stood out was her interest in hearing about my life and the decisions I made after graduating high school. I will remember her smile and affirmation that “you’ve turned out to be a fine young man with a beautiful family.” To hear that from my first teacher was so powerful. Almost as if I was still that young boy standing in her classroom all those years ago.

My elementary school teacher

Unconditional value

While this journey of rediscovering my value has not been easy it has been extremely enriching. And I know that my story isn’t necessarily the same for others who have questioned their self worth. But this is where faith bridges any doubt. When we seek truth about ourselves God meets us with a level of grace that only He can. This trip to Portugal was life giving, and that was because God met me there. In the laughter of my family, the smiles of strangers, or just the moments in silence as I marvelled at the blessings in my life.

The last few months

Maybe you are like me. Sensitive to hard truths that hit you like a gut punch. I want to be strong but my desire to learn and grow has wired me to seek feedback in all circumstances. And while feedback on who I am tends to be mostly positive, one slight reminder of something I thought I was over and the truth hits hard. When that happens I go through an intense review of my actions and up the intentionality meter to be more aware and more focused. In the process I shrug off the feelings that make me uncomfortable. Those are the feelings that have boiled over the last few months.

Quarantine feelings

Over a year ago I left my office unaware that I would be working from home indefinitely. At the time it seemed surreal. Almost like a scene from a movie that unfolded with a dark uncertainty that kept everyone unsure of what would happen next. Once sickness and death took over it was hard to see the future through clear lenses. How would we react to all that was happening? How could we live freely when asked to be in complete isolation? What psychological impacts would this reality have on children and their families? The ability to answer these questions got even harder when the topic of public health became a political argument, as if public health should be a partisan debate. This was our reality too; with friends and family.

These challenging times became real when the irony of a positive test meant bad news. This test reminded that not everything that is meant for good is indeed… good. As I dig deeper into my personality traits I have recognized that maybe my intentionality has grown from two types of roots.

The positive root

How could I be the best husband, father, son, brother, friend, co-worker, neighbor, leader, and (insert role here) if not by intentionally looking at the ways I act and react, think and process, discern and decide? I am not perfect – none of us are – but the opportunity to improve and be everything I was meant to be; the best version of myself is worth the effort. If anything, my family deserves it. My work benefits from it. It is all well intended and I’ve grown as a man thanks to this “always on” approach. But inside… it still hurts when the opportunity to grow is so obvious. Mainly because it is in these moments that I recognize I have very little control over the current reality and the future.

The negative root

What’s not to like about improving oneself? In many ways when I explain my intentional approach to life it is received with honorable mentions and recognized by the people around me. But this is what I learned from this pandemic, for as much as I tried to control the outcome I still ended up needing to quarantine. Could this focus on intentionality actually be a camouflage for my need to control the outcome? If so what was I controlling the outcome from? This recent revelation led me to seek help.

The value of mental health

The thoughts that eco through our minds reverberate through one’s soul and sink deep into the heart. My inability to recognize the fears that have haunted me have led me to a place of deep sorrow. A place where thankfully God has met me daily, and with mercy and grace. I am blessed to have a wife and family that have been supportive through this journey. And while it is hard to be in this place, I know I will be better for it. A type of intentionality that is worth pursuing.

Tell me a story of when you were young – #1 – elections

Most storytellers get their passion from a book. For me it was “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank. My love for both historical events and personal references made me imagine what my life would’ve looked like had I lived in similar circumstances. That is what books and stories do. They carry us to a different time and help us experience imaginary worlds or a time different than the one we are in right now. I think that is why all of our children are interested in stories from when I was young. I remember asking the same of my parents and now they do it to me.

It starts with our evening routine. As bedtime approaches, we check if their teeth are brushed, clothes are ready for the following day and tuck them in for the night. With each child a common question often gets asked. One that has led me to share about the serious and funny events that have shaped me. Written in story form I will post these timely memories in the hopes our children will cherish it for years to come. Again, it starts with that one question… and a follow-up conversation.

It was 7:30 PM and bed time was fast approaching. Every Mom and Dad anxiously await for this time of the day. A few more minutes and quietness will fill the house. But before that can happen the sacred ritual of goodnight prayers and forehead kisses takes place. The order changes every night. The youngest one is first tonight. Ava is the only girl and often the first to be tucked in. Blake is second and like any middle child he complains of neither being first nor last. Normally the last one gets a chance to really spend time with Dad and ask a question that will delay bedtime. Tonight Caden is last and his question is timely.

Can you tell me a story of when you were young? I bet elections were different when you were young.

Dad smiled and started sharing about his first memory of an election. It was 1990 and he was 8 years old. The Portuguese president was fighting for a second term. “I remember being as young as your sister and our family was spending time in my Dad’s hometown. Where Vovo was born.” “In Medelim, right?” Caden quickly replied as he was proud to know this key detail. “Yes. We found out the current Portuguese president was coming through the town campaigning for his second term in office. His name was Mario Soares and he was one of my Dad’s favorite politicians. I remember being a little kid and my Dad holding me up high and passing me to him.” Dad was quickly interrupted with the obvious question. “So he just passed you to him like a hot potato?” While Caden was covering his mouth under his sheets it was obvious there was grin hiding. “Very funny! Believe it or not, it’s actually normal for people to pass their children to politicians for pictures.” Dad said. “But I’m really not sure there is a picture to show. This was before there were cell phones.” Dad continued “Vovo just liked him because he had fought against the dictatorship.”

Caden’s eyes opened wide. “Oh wow!” The thought of dictatorship in his Dad’s home country made him think of current events and the recent elections in the U.S. “Were candidates nicer back then or did they also complain with each other?” Caden asked. “I think politicians have always been passionate and when we’re young we just don’t notice it as much. Now we get more information through the constant news and social media so you hear everyone’s different opinions.” Dad said in a reassuring voice.

Caden remained intrigued. You could see he was thinking about how to frame his next question. “Do you think there could ever be a dictatorship in America?” Dad was tempted to provide a quick response based on the merits of how the political system was built in the United States. Instead he returned to the original question. “I think that is why elections have always been important. They were important when I was young just like they are today.” Dad continued, “When voting for someone you look at their character first and foremost. Their political ideology will always follow close to their character. If they show themselves to be honest and kind then it is easier to trust their leadership.” Caden quickly replied, “you trust they won’t hold on to power.” Dad confirmed Caden’s thoughts with a nodding of his head and a closing statement “That’s right son. These are great questions to have and think through. They will prepare you for when you get to vote.”

A final kiss was stamped on Caden’s forehead with the ceremonial last words for the day. “Good night son. Amo-te muito!” Caden replied, “Amo-te muito Dad.”

2020 lessons for 2021

A new year is here and like most I have set goals and planed for the journey ahead. I normally think of this time in the year – last 2 weeks of December and the first 2 weeks of January – as a door that closes and another that opens. This introspective process normally unfolds ahead of the holidays as I take some time off to think through the life experiences I went through and set my hopes for what’s to come. The time off with family re-energizes me in preparation for the new year. But 2020 was not a normal year and even the sense of certainty in this routine was somehow different this time. Maybe it was because it all felt a bit more isolated. Or maybe it’s because plans have become more trivial. One thing 2020 blessed me with was more intimate time with family. Talking, thinking out loud, sharing of what we see and the emotions we feel from what is happening all around us has helped me prepare for the new year. This post was built on the experiences of 2020 but based on the conversations of the last 4 weeks. These are the lessons we learned as a family as we prepare for a new year.

Lesson #1 – Stay Flexible

Most of our time off during the holidays is normally spent outside. As a family we love a good hike in the woods. It definitely brings out the best in us as Courtney and I can spend time in conversation without sibling rivalries taking over. In the woods our kids can adventure together without feeling like it’s a competition. But this time, as we planned most of our time being out in the Greenway, the weather didn’t always collaborate. It was during a change of plans that our daughter shared her 2020 lesson.

What I learned from 2020 is that you need to be flexible!

Ava Marques

This need to be flexible was definitely on display during our time off. For a child who loves school, being away from teachers and friends required an adjustment. This simple yet brutally honest assessment of our 10 year old was something we all needed to hear. Our kids have had to adjust to school being different and as parents we’ve had to adjust our work and home realities, as both became one. Flexibility with a plan can seem counterintuitive but it is possible when your purpose is clearly defined. Your destination is still the same but your map on how to get there changes.

Lesson #2 – When you get knocked down.. you get up again

When the weather finally cooperated we challenged ourselves for our longest family hike so far: 8 miles! Everyone was up for it and the time spent together really made for some great memories. But that doesn’t mean it was easy. Especially for our kids. And while I won’t say which of our children had the hardest time through the hike, one in particular had to stop halfway through due to hunger. It was at that moment that both of our boys shared their 2020 lesson.

In 2020 we learned that when you get knocked down you need to fight and get back up!

Caden and Blake Marques

This desire to fight back and to persevere is helpful in a hike, and a fitting response to what 2020 threw at us. In a year packed with ups and downs it can be overwhelming to look back. In those tough moments many of us don’t know how to react. But sometimes all we need is to take one step at a time. Getting up from the challenges, learning from it, and pushing through.

Lesson #3 – Everything is better when we do it together

When we finished our 8 mile family hike we knew we had done something special. But the most important part was that we did it together. As a family. And in many ways this too reflected the biggest lesson Courtney and I had for 2020.

We can learn more, grow more and achieve more when we do it together!

Courtney and David Marques

It is easy to describe 2020 as the year the majority of us were stuck at home. But I believe the most encouraging part of 2020 was that it reminded us that being together as a family is enough. And whether that is taking a family hike, riding our bikes, watching a movie, or having a family game night, the simplicity of these moments created memories that make me yearn for more. More conversations with my wife and kids. More time understanding and learning about their views of the world. More opportunities to be together!

The Marques family finishing our 8 mile hike!

So what were your lessons from 2020 and how are you applying them to 2021? I would love to hear from you!

Back to school mottos during a pandemic

It’s that time of year again when all kids return to school. This year is a bit different as the pandemic continues to place our every day activities in a new light. If you have kids you know this as school looks a bit different with alternative schedules in place, additional safety measures and an increase need for extra patience. This new reality can create anxiety and stress for everyone involved. But change is inevitable and in many ways the adjustment of this year is a good opportunity to learn to adapt when faced with a challenge. This is an approach we take every school year.

Beyond just learning

More than learning about math and science, school is about growing through the different experiences kids will face when they are away from home. That is why every year we ask each of our children to write their goals on a piece of paper. In it we ask that they write not only what they want to achieve academically but also how they will grow in character.

In the Marques household we have a motto regarding school that has been the foundation for every decision we’ve made since they were in kindergarten. It is the lens through which we see every school success, disappointment or challenge. It is simply this:

Character over academics

This statement is a constant reminder for Courtney and I to focus on what is important. And while our kids may face challenges in their learning experience; while they may get a ‘C’ or even a “D’ on a paper or test; while they may not be recognized as an honor role student; the real win is in how they will respond to adversity, in how they will display kindness when faced with a bully, and how they will overcome life when the unexpected is thrown at you.


This simple statement is a reminder that character allows purpose to flourish even when plans are broken. Yes, we still want our kids to be ambitious, give their best in learning and achieve good grades. But this approach helps them frame success in a healthy way.

So here are the 2020/2021 School “Mottos” for the Marques kids…

Real champions never give up!

Caden Marques
Caden Tiago Marques

Different is cool!

Blake Marques
Blake Ezra Marques

Be kind, social distance, and never give up!

Ava Marques
Ava Madeline Marques

I hope one day Caden, Blake and Ava can read up on this post but not be surprised by their mottos. That will mean they will be living life with purpose. It will also mean the pandemic didn’t stop them.

What mottos do you have in your family? Share this post and the mottos you have for this year.

My return to blogging and the 3 ways writing has helped me during quarantine

It’s been 2 years since the last time I wrote but I really don’t have an answer as to why it has taken me so long to get back to blogging. One thing I do know: if you are a writer then you must write. Between inspirational post-it notes to my family and my ongoing journaling I have satisfied my yearning for writing in different ways. I have missed the continuous blogging of thoughts and lessons learned. So that is what I am returning to. This post highlights how blogging and writing has had a therapeutic effect on my life; especially during these times.

#1 – Helping me sort through my thoughts and express my feelings

As I type these words the whole world is (still) very much at a stand still adjusting, fighting, and grieving from a pandemic. The hardest part of it is how it creates a need for protection through isolation. I believe a solitary life can be emotionally taxing as we were made for community. However, recognizing the negative impacts of living in exile from the world allows us to be more honest with our feelings. In many ways writing helps us to look at those feelings and truly see how our lives are being impacted by the current events.

Writing my thoughts on paper has been helpful to recognize the ups and downs during quarantine. I love the fact that I am able to see my family more often throughout what would be a normal work week. But I also can’t help but acknowledge that while daily commutes are painful they provide a buffer between the office and home, allowing me to get over some frustrations before it’s family time. Even though I haven’t always responded to these stresses in the best way, writing about this reality has allowed me to read situations and respond to them in a healthy way. On paper I can be raw about the reality of working and living in the same space.

#2 – Helping me live out my passion for encouraging others

The hardest part about being away from the office is not being able to more genuinely connect with my co-workers on a frequent basis. Yes, one can call and even video conference colleagues, friends and family, but it is not quite the same. This is especially true if somehow you gain energy from being around others. This describes me and my way of working. I love to collaborate and connect with people on a personal level. At heart I am an encourager and motivator. Being away from others makes it more challenging so I have had to come up with different ways to live out this passion.

One of my favorite ways to encourage others is by writing small post-it notes with messages that motivate people. I started this over 4 years ago when managing sales channels. The fast pace environment at times left me with little opportunity to connect with people at a deeper level so these post-it notes became a way for me to tell someone that “I see you”, “I value you”, and “Your actions are appreciated.” This simple gesture made an impact to the point I started an Instagram series titled #postittoencourage. During quarantine time I found myself looking for ways to encourage others and I expanded this series to LinkedIn. The response while simple has been extremely rewarding as I find myself living out this purpose to encourage others.

#3 – Helping me connect with God

If you know me personally or have read any of my past posts you know that I find strength in being vulnerable and recognizing opportunities to grow. This post is in fact a reflection of that. I don’t claim to be the smartest or the wisest, but if there is a reason why I am comfortable in the seemingly uncomfortable it is because of my faith. My walk with God has shown me my weaknesses don’t define me. I follow Jesus knowing that tomorrow will be a better day because He walks by my side.

These times have reminded me that when I write I have the most important person reading. This audience of one is enough. Maybe that is why I have felt less compelled to actually publish some of these writings into blog posts. Being connected with God through personal writings allows the conversation to flow in ways that are hard to explain. It also provides “mile markers” that serve as reference points for growth and humility. Through some of my previous writings I can look back and recognize the ways that God has blessed me. That is worth putting my heart out through each word I write.

What have you been writing lately?

On the wings of a cardinal

This post has taken a year to write. It was initially drafted in my mind with different versions coming alive during the most simple of situations: while taking our children to the bus stop, when driving to work, and even during walks around our neighborhood. This post is about the journey our family has been on since July 2017. While change is inevitable it’s not always easy and during this adjustment we’ve held on to the One who provides certainty. As we seek God’s purpose for our lives it is evident His promises are true. He continues to deliver us on an adventure that fulfills one of the most mysterious scriptures for the human heart.

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

Life abundantly can be described in so many ways. Many times it is incorrectly associated with the lies that the more you have – more money, more stuff, even more sophisticated roles and job titles – the happier you will be. Our world sells us these lies. But this last year, for all the ups and downs inherent to change, we experienced the abundant life in the adventure. New memories that linked our hearts to our souls. And we experienced it on the wings of a red cardinal.

Waiting on His calling

We spent 11 years of our life in Raleigh, NC. We loved the city and in many ways considered it our hometown in America. While Courtney and I did not grow up in Raleigh we built some of our most special memories there. It’s the city we got married in, our 3 children were born there and it’s where we became home owners for the first time. Most importantly, we built friendships that will last a lifetime. We saw God move in our hearts and in the hearts of others around us. It was during this time we first noticed the beautiful red cardinals that would visit us in the back yard. In many ways this was the perfect town for us to settle. But God doesn’t call us to settle.

We always wanted our family to be a catalyst for change. There are specific moments in life when something pulls you in and grabs your attention. We’ve experienced this before as we’ve tried to live on mission. Making choices in light of the One who made us. It was this way when we moved from Portugal to the United States. This time though we both had the feeling that this was about something bigger than a career… something more meaningful than a neighborhood… something more influential than a school district… We began to feel the freedom that with God by our side we, as a family of 5, could move anywhere. Our church in Raleigh had a simple way of putting this mindset into perspective.

Reach the Triangle and Change the World.

Hope Community Church

We were ready to leave it all behind in pursuit of a life filled with purpose. Courtney’s biggest fear to sell our home as a result of pursuing full time mission work was removed. And so we told God we would go wherever He would send us. We thought of Africa.

Hearing His calling

I can recall our decision to embrace this new take on our life as we told friends and family that we would wait on God to show us where to go. It was Easter Sunday 2017 when we told family that we would pick up and move on God’s command. Within 30 minutes I was called by a recruiter with my company to interview for a new position. (No, that’s not an exaggeration. And yes, it was Easter Sunday!) In less than 2 weeks I had 3 face-to-face meetings and an offer placed on the table for our family to relocate to Charlotte. In a total of 6 weeks we sold our home and were living in a new city. God’s answer made Charlotte our “Africa”.

We didn’t plan this move. I could tell you to look at my life’s journey and pretend that I plotted our every step as a great story of my intelligence. The reality is… I’m simply not that smart! Yes, we’ve made decisions. Some risky and some calculated. But most importantly we’ve made ourselves available to listen to God. Our family has sought His will even when trials blurred our vision.

Seeing Him Calling

There is this story in the Bible when Gideon asks God to show him a sign as a way to help him decide whether or not he should go to battle (Judges 6:36-40). Our family used his example to seek direction on where we would choose to live. On our 3-hour drive from Raleigh to Charlotte, Courtney and I shared about our own “fleece prayers” and the signs we were requesting from God. Courtney’s sign was quite specific while mine was… well, ambiguous. Courtney asked for a red male cardinal whereas I asked for… trees. While I found a way to highlight that we both identified our signs separate from each other (and you really can’t have a red cardinal without a tree) most of our family was dumfounded at my choice. Our daughter Ava put it best when she shouted from the back seat:

“Silly Daddy! Trees are EVERYWHERE!”

Yes, trees are everywhere but red cardinals are not. And so we visited different neighborhoods and homes with our prayer before the Lord. We waited anxiously for the right home to be placed before us. We had talks about how even if we found a perfect fit that we would wait until God showed up as a sign that this was his blessing to us! We first became aware of this house through a facebook request posted online. We were seeking the possibility of an unlisted home in a well sought out neighborhood perfectly located near Uptown Charlotte. Someone responded as possibly being interested in selling within our price range and we went to take a look.

On our first visit, no cardinal showed up, just some trees. With a bit of disappoinment and truly leaning into God’s ability to provide an answer, we took the weekend to process and pray. On our second visit we got a chance to walk through it with our realtor. Courtney checked the backyard layout and something urged her to nod her head upward. There amidst a forest of trees she landed her eyes on that male red cardinal. She could hardly contain herself and began running towards the house to grab me and show me the bird! She had seen the familiar shades of red that so many times visited us in Raleigh.

You see we’ve had ups and downs just like all families in any city. During some of our best and hardest moments – birthday celebrations, school frustrations, neighborhood cookouts and house projects gone wrong – we often saw a red cardinal from our bay window as a reminder that abundant life is only in Jesus! The experiences He gives us allow us to grow in our faith in Him.

God allowed us to ride on the wings of a red cardinal as he delivered his promise of life to the fullest. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the previous owners wrote scripture on the beams and foundation as this home was being constructed. Yes, it is just a house. But one that was planned for us. A safe place for us to meditate. A new location for our children to grow. An opportunity for us to reflect God’s love to the people around us.

This blog post tells only a part of our story. There are still chapters left to write: Why are we here? In this neighborhood? In this community? In this city? We believe we were meant to be here and we invite you to journey along with us.

A Perfect Christmas

As I type this message with dirty hands and dusty feet I think of the memories built around a fire place with the smell of cattle and farm animals. This year we traveled far away from the city to gather as a family. And while we are different we are still very much the same. Imperfect. Broken. And in need of a savior.

But I recognize this Christmas as a real experience. Not because we received some great presents or the latest gadgets. No. Because we were a family who simply enjoyed each other.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. 

Luke 2:8-20

I will treasure these moments we lived as a family this Christmas as the shepherd did on that first Christmas night. They remembered that night because as they watched over the sheep used in the temple as a sacrifice, they knew the lamb of God had arrived to wash away all of our sins. The Perfect One was here. The Father had sent his son to unite us with Him.

Merry Christmas!

The Hope of Easter is still alive

Easter is one of my favorite times of the year. For some it is just another holiday on a yearly calendar. But the truth is that all of our stories are wrapped up in this one event; woven together at the cross. The meaning of Easter is hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it. To recognize it we must first understand brokenness and death in our own lives. Only then can we admit our need for a savior. One that continues to provide hope even today.

If you’ve experienced pain you know healing feels refreshing. Hope does that do you too. Have you ever lived through that refreshing feeling when hope becomes real? I did with my father.

CJ pushed through the church doors, skipped down the steps. The outside air smelled like freedom…

Matt De La Peña, Last Stop on Market Street

The Crosses in my Dad’s hometown

Growing up in Portugal it was common to spend long seasons away from the city and in the country side. Our month-long escapes would take place in a quiet town near the border with Spain. Medelim was too small for many travelers to stop. But for our family it was our second home. My father left the comforts of this small community when he was just 15. He would migrate to the big city in search of a better life with more opportunities. Like him many others would follow. And during the holidays the town would breathe new life when children of old would return.

A small 5-hour car drive was a luxury for us. Many would travel by train and bus taking a full day just to arrive when the night sky started taking over the town. It was around this time that many would experience the Calvary hilltop. An elevated section on the eastern side of town. A little chapel sat on the rocky terrain. Mostly empty. The majority of visitors came for the silence and serenity offered by the beautiful views. You could see for miles in the distance. This will always be my favorite place in Medelim.

In the darkness, the rhythm lifted CJ out of the bus, out of the busy city.

Matt De La Peña, Last Stop on Market Street

I don’t recall how young I was but it was at the Calvary hilltop that I first noticed a cross (how fitting). I didn’t understand the meaning of the name nor why there were 3 crosses until my teenage years. But it was there that I was introduced to my father’s aversion to any symbols associated with the church.

My bus ride confession

I found faith in God in my last year of high school. The missionaries shared Christ through action. They loved me and the youth with purpose. Painting pictures of hope cemented by the story of Easter. Back in Lisbon I had fallen in love with a savior that was real and spoke to me through word and the people he brought to my life. Unfortunately this new reality strained the relationship with my father. To him my faith made no sense.

I found myself confused by my ability to find hope everywhere else but at home. I wanted to share that refreshing feeling I had found but… my father didn’t want to. In his youth he had seen his father belittled by the small town’s priest. I never met my grand-father has he passed away a few years after that incident. For his son there was no hope in the story of Easter.

It was on a crowded bus ride to church that I made my confession. As our youth group shared how much our faith had provided us hope I remember saying very confidently that “My Dad won’t accept Jesus. I just can’t see it happening.” Some of my friends didn’t know how to react. I don’t think I knew how to react either. The first testing of my faith was disguised as someone else’s issue. I just couldn’t imagine my father in a position where he would acknowledge the need for saving in his life. The man that stood strong despite his age seemed invincible. That is until brokenness hit.

Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.

Matt De La Peña, Last Stop on Market Street

The cross in the form of cancer

The years that followed that bus ride were filled with beautiful memories. Those were some of the best years of my life. But it was also the toughest season for our family. My Dad would be introduced to physical and psychological pain as his body and soul broke in the face of cancer. The disease spread through his body like venom. Breaking him.

We moved to the US while he was still fighting this new reality. It was hard for him to see hope beyond the diagnosis. Some might say he was negative; I just thought he never met hope personified. 

Our relationship eventually got better. Grandkids can do that to an old man. But so can brokenness. The Portguese man who claimed he would never cross the Atlantic ocean would eventually visit 2 times. On his last trip the cross came alive in him.

CJ saw the perfect rainbow arcing over their soup kitchen. He wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.

Matt De La Peña, Last Stop on Market Street

Hope is alive

In his last visit he left his last impression. One that shapes my faith today. I think that is why I wrote this post. I want my children to know the good memories far outweigh the bad ones. That their Avô was a good man that ultimately needed to experience his own cross to know he couldn’t carry it on his own.

During his last visit he would apologize for many of his mistakes. He would proclaim his love for me and Courtney. But most importantly he would recognize the refreshing feeling of hope in us. Something that moved him to claim a peace he never had experienced before. In one of the last days at our house he asked if he could pray. It was a simple prayer for our meal. But one that took me back to that bus ride. To realize that the God I serve can do the impossible.

He saw sunset colors swirling over crashing waves. Saw a family of hawks slicing through the sky. Saw the old woman’s butterflies dancing free in the light of the moon. CJ’s chest grew full and he was lost in the sound and the sound gave him the feeling of magic.

Matt De La Peña, Last Stop on Market Street

That is the true story of Easter. One that makes hope alive.

Those crosses still stand in the Calvary hilltop in Medelim. They are a simbol of what happened 2000 years ago. But I can’t help think that maybe those crosses were for me and my Dad to recognize Jesus’ sacrifice for us.