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.

My life-savior

Some of my best memories of Portugal took place on a beach. If there is one thing I miss the most is gazing at the ocean and its vastness. I loved feeling the cool and gentle breeze of the coastal line welcoming each morning as a new beginning. But it was later in the day that the real magic would take place; when the horizon served as a canvas for a beautiful sunset. To experience both in one day would be a blessing. I can appreciate it more now than I did before. Maybe it’s because I can recognize the dangers of the water more clearly. In my life I’ve experienced the thrill of waves that engulfed me in joy and pain.

Swimming with my Dad

I was born a surprise. At 50 my Dad was looking forward to slower days and calmer times. I didn’t necessarily change his plans but he still compromised in certain moments. Going to the beach would always provide the right opportunity to bond. It would change as I got older but the memories remain. As a little child I remember holding his hands with trust. His palms were rugged and I believed he could stand it all.

I can recall being as young as 7 and my Dad would place me on his shoulders and he would jump in the water. He would challenge the waves as an authoritative figure. In the water, despite his age, he was the fittest and most courageous man around. I remember holding on to his shoulders while he swam far, far away; to a point where the beach looked like miles in the distance. I remember being scared. He could sense it and he would say: “Don’t worry son. I’m here. I’m not going to let you go.”

As I got older our relationship changed. My Dad was from a generation oppressed by the Portguese dictatorship. You didn’t ask heart sinking questions; you didn’t interrogate decisions that were one-sided; you didn’t share the deepest areas of your soul. With no one else to open up to, the reality of a dark world came crashing down on me; like an ocean’s wave.

It is hard to even write words that express the chasm created in our relationship. We still spoke about the mundane and I respected his leadership at home. But it wasn’t the same. I was growing up and ready to face the waters myself. I just know I couldn’t do it on my own. But that is how I felt; alone because he choose to not enter the water with me. 

Swimming with a Father

The beautiful part of this story comes from knowing that a sunset is most enjoyable with others by your side. Next to me were brothers and sisters who embraced me just as I was and spoke of the one who will always go in the water with you; the one whose hands are not just rugged but also… pierced.

The introduction to Jesus wasn’t formal. The reality is that He was there all along: when others belittled me; when so-called friends questioned my faith; when my eartly father choose not to come in the water with me. Instead, Jesus entered the ocean by my side. 

A cross stands in the place where He washed me clean. A beacon of light that inspired a song I would play to my wife and children. A song that still provides hope to anyone getting beaten by the waves.

When the waves come crashing down, when my face hits the ground.
I will need something strong; a right above all wrongs.
And I say God, you are my God.
And you’ll always be true, my life-savior is you.
Jesus, Jesus, come rescue me.
Jesus, Jesus, come set me free.

I heard a gentle voice, above all life’s noise.
My savior was calling me and I was rescue from life’s see.
And I said God, you are my God.
And you’ve always been true, my life-savior is you.
Jesus, Jesus, you came and rescued me.
Jesus, Jesus, you came and set me free.

David Marques, 2002

Jesus was and is my life-savior. The one who goes in the water with you; the one who withstands the weight of the waves; the one whose words remain true even in the darkest of storms…

“Don’t worry son. I’m here. I’m not going to let you go.”

Living on Mission

It’s not easy to be intentional but I try. Often I see myself caught up in the distractions of this world that I forget my sense of presence in the moment. To live this way is to miss out. A greater purpose makes all little things add up. All you have to do is look at the people who have found direction in life to recognize their meaning goes beyond what they have experienced and is reflected in their every interaction. They are on a mission and in the process living life to the fullest. Deep inside we all long for it; we were made for something bigger than ourselves. And there is inspiration when we witness someone like that. My inspiration comes from an American girl.

Everything has purpose, clocks tell you time, trains take you to places. I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine… I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.

Hugo Cabret, Hugo (the movie)

When I was 17 I met this group of people who changed my life. In it was a girl that would laugh with fervor and cry with deep sorrow. She was real and she caught my eye in a room full of noise. Maybe it was because she had a beautiful smile. Or maybe it was because she could reach out and touch you every time you glanced at her brown eyes. I met her the day she arrived but it seemed she had been there for years. That might have been because no one was a stranger to her. When you approached her she would always give you undivided attention. She knew the rhythm needed for each moment and with each interaction it was clear she was there for a reason. I wanted to know why.

A mission gives meaning to life

I don’t remember the winter of 2000 being extremely cold. My heart was warm during that time. The girl who moved from a country of movie stars and popular trends was anything but artificial. She had now become a friend and with each conversation it was clear her charisma came from a life balanced through joy and heartache.

Her youth had been filled with beautiful memories but it had strokes of dark paint. As we shared about our life experiences she told me the reason she left home was to flee a corrupted environment that stole her innocence.

Maybe that’s why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn’t able to do what it was meant to do… Maybe it’s the same with people. If you lose your purpose… it’s like you are broken.

Hugo Cabret, Hugo (the movie)

Outside the pews of her Sunday morning worship were gatherings of a promiscuous youth who looked for easy prey. She was a victim like so many others… but even this couldn’t take away her beauty. What might have seemed like an easy escape actually became an unknown release of unlimited power. She didn’t know then but when she embarked on the decision to serve as a missionary she was saying yes to a story of redemption for herself and for others.

A mission is bigger than any setback

Over the next few months the girl who quickly grabbed my heart suddenly attracted the disregard of my family. What started as a friendship soon became a love story bound to be challenged. Having travelled across the ocean to serve selflessly her quest was not seen as noble enough for an older generation who questioned everything on the side of suspicion. Instead of regarded for her internal beauty she was questioned by her outer looks. A blow to her self-esteem that only a higher calling could help her overcome.

By that time her mission was my own. Every frustration, disappointment or challenge to our love made the path clearer for us. We married in the spring of 2003 knowing fully well that the bumps along the road were part of our story. A story that might not fit a book perfectly but that would hopefully inspire others to live fully.

Hugo: I’m sorry it’s broken.
Mr. Méliés: No it’s not. It worked perfectly!

Hugo (the movie)

A mission creates legacy

Over the years I saw this girl become a woman in every sense of the word. She is now a wife and a mother but most importantly she remains a missionary.

What I witnessed was beauty regenerating from ashes. Her body was bruised from physical and emotional wounds. Some might consider it bad luck. I would say they were a burnt offering to a God who gives purpose despite circumstances. A God who uses broken vessels to share his unending love. A true God.

My American girl showed forgiveness, kindness and compassion no matter what she went through.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:34-35

Courtney continues to inspire me today. As she meets with others in our community or outside the country, she is steadfast in her purpose to love others. Whether she is volunteering at our children’s school or encouraging neighbors at our local gym, she recognizes the mission in every moment. She is not perfect and that is probably what makes her even more beautiful. Her vulnerability and willingness to tell her story is what makes life real.

Together we claim our mission to share the love of God in the simple yet meaningful moments of life.

You can read more about my wife’s story on her blog.

Fear and Hope

This year Courtney and I spent our Valentine’s Day evening watching a documentary titled In Light of Eternity. It may not seem like the most romantic thing to do, especially when your wife isn’t fond of movies or TV time, but this experience was different. As I continue to feel a strong pull to remain intentional in my pursuit for purpose the narrative spoke to both of us and questioned our plans. We were reminded that selflessness is the key to fulfillment. A truth that made February 14 more meaningful. But the challenge to live this way goes beyond marriage or any other relationship. It serves a higher calling and is greater than one day or one year; it is a life-long commitment. A purpose that moves in action. All these thoughts hit me like a train when I read the opening quote:

Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but succeeding in life at things that don’t really matter.

D.L. Moody

Suddenly it became personal and the questions circled my head: What am I doing today that won’t matter tomorrow, next year or 50 years from now? What am I pursuing that won’t make a difference in my life or the life of the people I love? What am I afraid of that I know I need to do?

Fear can paralyze a man and strip him of any potential good he could bring to the world. I’ve felt that fear before.

Fear in the form of a nightmare

When I was kid I remember having nightmares when I watched something scary. It wasn’t a sure occurrence but when it would happen I would sweat and shiver with suspense until I woke up. Heart pounding but relieved. The fear was not knowing if it was real.

As an adult I’ve experienced some nightmares but one has stuck with me. It comes and goes, and it expresses a fear that is real. It normally starts like this…

Driving an old car through the night on an open road with open fields on one side and scattered trees on the other. I am all alone and it is silent. The car stops as I approach an old pole with a street light shining a few feet ahead of me. The image moves from a first person view to a panoramic angle of the car, the road and the trees. I don’t know why the car stops but suddenly I get out to find myself walking towards the brighter side of the road with a cinematic view still playing. I’m no longer seeing things as if I’m the one in the dream; at this moment I’m simply a spectator watching attentively to see what happens. I walk pass the pole but don’t seem to make any progress. It gets darker and I continue to walk. By now I see myself running and looking back only to see that I’m still at the same distance from the light pole and the car. I run the other direction and the same happens. No progress. The image fades with me just standing in the middle of the road. Stuck in this reality with no where to go.

I believe much of this nightmare comes from the fear of failure. A fear that freezes you. Disabling you to no movement. I know for me this fear encompasses much of my professional life and the obsession with a successful career. But it is greater than just work; it’s about living a life that matters and making sure every decision, every step, every action aligns with my plans. For some people it is easy to read this and simply say “snap out of it.” The problem is that fear raises doubts in our own abilities and formulas. Fear is the real reason we feel stuck.

Fighting fear with hope

In August I will celebrate 12 years living in the United States. It seems like it was yesterday that Courtney and I arrived on a warm Florida night with little more than the clothes on our backs, ready to start a new life. That day was exhilarating. We were a young couple making decisions with no regard to fear. Yes Courtney’s parents would embrace our move and help us during the first few months but there was little certainty on what would happen next. No jobs. No cars. No friends. And no real concrete plans. We just knew we were meant to make the move across the ocean to a town we really didn’t know much about. Our driving force wasn’t courage. We simply had hope.

Fear gives us a reason not to try; Hope gives us the courage not to listen.

Bob Goff

I believe the only way to fight fear is to have hope. Courage is simply an expression. An emotion that took place in our hearts and made us move. The real antidote to fear is to experience hope.

Hope-filled purpose

I still carry that hope that made me move to a new country over a decade ago. It is fulfilling to look back at that memory and see the blessings that have come from that decision. The real catalyst was the word of God that propelled us to see our decisions in light of… eternity. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it.

The nostalgia of that time doesn’t negate my increasing responsibilities. It just reminds me that over time my dreams have become personal-life plans. I think that is why I don’t dream much anymore. I want to experience that hope-filled life again. I want to live with enough faith and courage where my actions aren’t just based on certainty but embrace risk as an opportunity for God to show up. Hope looks for a better way; a better future. I want to live that way; with a life that matters and have it reflected in my marriage, my parenting, and even in my career.

In the end our hope provides direction and meaning.

And HOPE does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:5

In the end our hope provides clarity in our purpose.