Uncles and Nephews

Across the board, my uncles are some of my favorite people.  I have 4 of them.  2 are my mom’s brothers.  2 are my dad’s brothers. They are each incredibly different.  And somehow I see traces of myself in each one of them.  Considering that 2 of them have lived in other states my entire life, I am even more amazed at how genes can pass along through the family.

My senior picture looks strikingly similar to my uncle Chuck’s senior picture.

My uncle Scott moved to California when he was a teenager because he always felt like he wanted to get out of Orlando.

My uncle Donald can make you laugh during any situation, but still show you he seriously cares.

My uncle Danny is at the top of his game when there is a tragedy.  He knows how to bring comfort to people during their most difficult times.

I am not exactly like any of them in any of these ways.  But occasionally I can look at them and I can see in my own life how similar we are in specific arenas.

For a little over 6 of the last 10 years I worked with one of my uncles.  Uncle Danny is a pastor.  He and I went to a conference together as he was going to start a new church and I offered to do the music.  At the conference, we had to register with a church name that we were associated with.

Lake Pickett Church.

To this day, there still isn’t a church named that.  Eventually that name became Eastpoint Fellowship.

There are a TON of great things that I will write at some point about Eastpoint Fellowship and the awesome opportunity I had to work for that church from the ground up.  And one of the greatest things about the job was that there was only one downside to the job.

Usually, you can pick out a ton of things you dislike about a job and you can pretty much go negative in every area of your career and the people you work with and the situations you deal with.  But at Eastpoint there was simply one thing that I absolutely couldn’t stand.

It wasn’t a person.

It wasn’t a specific belief system or way of thinking that I didn’t agree with.

It wasn’t what was required of me.

It was one thing.  And this one thing was completely natural for the environment that it was created in.  In fact, there was absolutely no way to avoid this thing.

Danny Strickland (Uncle) and Jason Avera (Nephew) had a working relationship that was very difficult to separate from the family relationship.  And NEITHER were bad.  It’s just a strange thing when “Uncle” becomes “Boss”.  When “Nephew” becomes “Employee”.

I’m not complaining or whining.  I’m just saying that during that stretch of time I really missed when it was just Uncle and Nephew.

I did a lot to make our working relationship not be as great as it could be.  I was selfish many times.  I was young and stupid, and thought I knew everything.  I took advantage of my uncle at work because he was my uncle.  Many times I did not put in the effort that I should have.  There were times when I simply communicated so poorly.  I’m sure I could come up with excuses, blah blah blah…but the truth is that many times I wasn’t a great employee.  And that spilled over into “uncle/nephew”.

Like I said, this was the only thing that I didn’t like about the job.  And it was a natural friction working with family.  But many times I chose to make it worse, and that is my fault.  My uncle didn’t deserve that.

All of that to say….

Last weekend he and my Aunt Cookie and my cousin Casey and her baby came up to visit with us.  They were here to get a taste of No Longer Bound (see Adam part 1) and we got to spend some quality time together.  Even a week later, I’m not really sure of what to write about all that happened during their visit as it relates to Adam.

I was reminded of pain.

I was reminded of love.

I was reminded that my Uncle is once again, simply my Uncle.  And I am once again, Nephew.

We got to hang out and talk about serious things, and also laugh really hard at others.  I got to show him around the area here and he was able to tell me what has been going on in his life since I moved away.

I don’t want you to think that our relationship in Orlando was ever BAD.  It wasn’t.  It just wasn’t simply Uncle and Nephew.

And last weekend, for the first time in a long time, Uncle Danny and Nephew Jason spent some quality family time together without having any other type of relationship to worry about.

I love my Uncle.  He is one of the best people I know.  He has loved me more than most anyone has.  Last weekend was great all around.  For so many reasons.

But specifically uncles and nephews got back to being just uncles and nephews.

And also friends.

Fifty Shades of Grey and all that comes with it

This is my first blog experience, so bare with me. It’s a little intimidating. I might run on a lot and I’m not going to pretend I’m even close to as good as my husband is with writing my thoughts. You see, I had to re-read that last sentence a few times and it still doesn’t make sense to me. In grad school I sat at a blank computer screen for hours trying to put together a 3-page paper and went crying to Jason many times in search for writing guidance. Oh well. I’m not a writer. And that is okay.

The last few weeks I have encountered the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy numerous times whether it was during a conversation with my mom, seeing the book laying around at houses while doing home health, or numerous comments on Facebook including “I can’t put Fifty Shades of Grey down” and “I barely slept last night because of Fifty Shades of Grey.” After reading about it on the Internet and discussing the topic with my husband and various friends, I decided to write about it. 

For those of you who don’t know, Fifty Shades of Grey is a “New York Times #1 bestselling erotic fiction book and is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of BDSM,” according to Wikipedia. I left BDSM as a link in case some people don’t know what that is; I’m not going to explain it. Too much.

I told Jason the reason I was so interested in this subject was most likely because I was affected by lust a lot when I was growing up. I caught someone close to me, someone who I highly respected and once placed my opinions of that person on a pedestal, watching porn and I don’t think I realized how much it affected me until the last few years. (Side note: placing someone on a pedestal is a dangerous and potentially devastating thing, and the only one that can fulfill those high expectations is Jesus. But, that can be discussed in a different blog. Maybe, if I’m brave enough.)  My guy friends in high school watched porn all the time (with me there at times) and it was always just accepted as what guys do, but I never felt comfortable with it.  I’ve read trashy romance novels before and it definitely affected me emotionally. Lately I’ve heard about many marriages breaking up or being damaged due to cheating, lust, not being emotionally connected, or fill in the blank. Another and most important reason: I am very interested in protecting my heart and marriage and I believe that kind of content over a long period of time can ruin that. I think the “erotica fiction” creates an illusion of innocent entertainment for women, but in reality, is can be very damaging, similar to men watching porn. I think the idea of oodles of people reading these books stirred up a lot of stuff I needed to process and learn related to this subject.

Something I’ve been learning a lot lately is this:

Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it. Proverbs 4:23

In other words, protect, take precaution, or watch over your heart because everything in life comes out of it. Everything you do in life flows from what is in your heart. If we fill our hearts with lust, porn, erotic novels, jealousy, pride, whatever it is that fills your heart, that is what will determine the course of our lives. Maybe those marriages would have survived if both partners protected their hearts a little more. Just a thought. 

I’m not trying to condemn anyone for reading the books. And it’s not just about the books, obviously. But, I do hope we continue to ask ourselves this: Are we protecting our heart, our marriage, our future marriage, our emotional well-being, our friendship, and/or our life by doing/reading/allowing __________?  

Let me know what you think about this 🙂 I would luuurve it.



we moved (Part 1)

I still remember the first time that I wanted to leave.

They say that home is where your heart is.  But being born into a broken home infers that you are born with a broken heart.  My parents divorce wasn’t something that happened to me.  It was something that happened before me.  I think.  I don’t actually know if it happened before or directly after my birth, but the hospital pictures of just baby me and my dad and me and just my mom…

I came into this world to two parents who had broken hearts.  Their only child before me died 10 months prior to my birth.  He was 2 months old.  My brother’s death ripped my parent’s young marriage apart.  By the time I first opened my eyes, the love that my mom and dad shared had slowly rotted it’s way into sad stone.  It’s mold smelled of bitterness and drifted towards one another, towards deity, towards death, towards life.

It was probably also the first time that I cried and there wasn’t anyone or anything that could make it better with a bandaid and a kiss/hug.  The reality of the long term affect of my parent’s decisions prior to my life was becoming clear to me.  My dad was driving me back to my mom’s house after spending the weekend with him.  I wanted to see him more than every other weekend.  I also wanted to play basketball and football with my neighborhood friends more than every other weekend.  But I was only 6 or 8 years old.  For the next 10 years or so I was going to have to deal with the deck that I had been given.  As an adult you grow accustomed to that.  But as a child, it was so hard and confusing and unfair.  My heart was torn between my dad’s house and my mom’s house.  While at one, I would think about the other.  What would it have been like to have my dad and mom live in the same home and raise me?  Knowing them both, it probably wouldn’t have been good.  But I wondered.

I was realizing the struggle/sadness that I was born into.  Not of my choice.  Not something that happened to me along the way and drastically changed everything.  It was just what I was born into.  And for the first time as a kid riding home with my dad being shipped back to my mom’s house…I was sad about it.

And I knew that this was the way my life would be for quite a while.

And I wanted to leave…

But I was just a kid.

I grew up very uncomfortable with change.  I liked that we had mostly the same meals cooked at home on a regular basis.  I liked that I knew what my weekend schedule looked like (playing sports with peers, watching sports late at night by myself, great church with the best youth group around).  My unorthodox lifestyle of switching homes every other weekend had become “normal” for me and I didn’t like for that to be disrupted.

And despite all of this…I wanted to leave.

When I was about 20 years old I was offered a job in Georgia.  It was a dream type job for me with someone who was a mentor of sorts in my life.  I wanted to take it so incredibly bad.  But I knew that I was not done in Orlando.  I had to finish school first.  And that broke my heart.  I was ready to go.

The summer that Brittany and I were engaged to be married we spent in Maryland.  We interned at a church there.  A short time after my internship was over and I was back home in Orlando, that church called.  They were looking for a youth pastor.  I was on the short list of candidates.  I had a couple of interviews and they were very interested.  Unfortunately, I still had not finished my degree at UCF.  And I knew that I owed it to those who had invested so much into me to obtain my degree, that I could not stop now for the sake of a job elsewhere.  There were a lot of reasons I had taken some time off from college.  But the truth is that it was my responsibility to finish what I had started.  And although I wanted to leave, I was not done in Orlando.  Again I had to decline a great job that I would have loved.  I was broken hearted.  I was ready to go.

To make this story much shorter…I have always wanted to leave.  For a ton of reasons.  I lived in Orlando for 28 years.  I spent way too many years, but I finally did get my bachelors.  Brittany and I had always known that we wanted to move.  But we had to get some things accomplished before we could seriously consider that option.

So we both finished school.  At the same time we both became almost radical about paying off debt. We completed what we needed to complete in Orlando.  I helped my church, Eastpoint Fellowship, get into a new building.  I felt that I did the best I knew how to finish at the church well and to leave my position better off than it was left to me.  That isn’t an indictment of how it was left to me.  I would strive to elevate the level of excellence no matter how great something was left into my responsibility.  And I truly feel I was able to do that.  Right now Eastpoint is being led in worship by someone who was a mentor to me.  Someone who I felt was the best worship leader in Orlando.  And someone who I know will raise the level for the next person to come along and take the torch at that position.

If I stayed in Orlando, I would have grown old and bitter.  That would have nothing to do with most people’s experience there.  But for Jason, this is what I have left after years and years of it:

– Driving multiple times a week past the area of Orlando that my mom lived her last years.  Seeing that Walgreens sign off Lake Picket reminded me of the tragedy of a 2 years daily watching my mom die.  Going to pick up her multiple chemo pills…

– Christmas in Orlando.  Worst moments of my life.  I spent Christmas after Christmas after Christmas running myself ragged trying to make sure I met everyone’s expectations.  Make sure to hit your mom’s house for breakfast, dad’s house on the opposite side of the city afterwards.  Step dad’s home back on the east side at some point.  And every time you left one of those places you felt the sadness in the eye’s of that homeowner that you had to leave and drive 20 miles somewhere else.  Christmas also represented the time when my mom and stepdad told me they were divorcing.  So that was always in my mind as I drove around the city.  While many celebrated Jesus around that holiday, I questioned weather or not he cared about me.

– UCF.  I don’t think I’ve ever wrote about this.  But I hate UCF.  They tried so many ways to screw me out of more and more and more and more and more money it is unbelievable.  I had classes the semester that I dropped to go to AZ to be with my mom during her surgery to remove a tumor.  I dropped the classes 1 day after the add/drop deadline.  I didn’t realize this as my life was a bit in a scramble.  The next semester when I went to register I found out I owed around 2K.  I spoke to someone who kindly told me I just needed to appeal the amount owed for the previous semester.  I hadn’t actually attended any of those classes.  I made my official appeal.  And officially the university denied my appeal and stated that I must pay for those classes I never attended before I could enroll in any future classes.  I don’t dislike UCF b/c I grew up a Gator fan.  I dislike them b/c of this.  By the time I was able to pay for the 2K on my own, the list of classes required for my degree changed and included an additional 2 full-time semesters of courses that previously wouldn’t have been required.

These are just a few of the things that I have endured, but now I no longer have to.  I totally understand that I can’t run away from memories.  But I believe, after 28 years…it is ok for me to run away.  I have some incredible things to look back on in Orlando and thank God for.  But now it is time to move on for me.  Now it is time to follow the God-given desire to move.

And we have done just that.

Until Part 2…


New Jerb

I’ve never really impressed anyone with my places of employment.

In fact, there was only one time where I can remember somebody being “blown away” by what my job (at the time) was.  It was the end of a 1 week construction project.  A few hundred high school students from different parts of the country had paid money to come and spend a week working on people’s homes who couldn’t afford it in Knoxville, TN.  There were several big projects that were worked on by all volunteers (mostly teens) during the day and in the evening time there was a church service at the place where all of these volunteers slept/ate.  

I was the person who spoke at these worship services.  About 25 minutes every evening.  With general themes provided by the organization in which I had to figure out how to make interesting enough so that these tired and hard working and ADHD students benefited from my words.

On the last night of the project after the last worship service and the last time I would stand in front of a large group of people and teach out of the bible for a while, one of the youth pastors came up to me.  He was enormously large.  He fit the idea of “fat and happy” so well.  We had talked a few short times in the week and more importantly, I had seen how much fun he had being around the students he was responsible for.  We’ll call him Al.

Al: “Hey man, I just wanted to say this week has been great for my students.  Everything about the week has been great.  It is obvious that you haven’t gone to seminary…(uh oh)…and I just want to tell you that you probably shouldn’t!  Keep teaching with the sincerity the way you teach and don’t let anything change that.  Are you planning on going to seminary?”

Me: “No”

Al: “Oh.  Do you work as a youth pastor back home?”

Me: “Nope”

Al: “What do you do?”

Me: “I’m a server at a bar and grill.”

Al: (smile on his face) “Like a waiter?!”

Me: “Just like it.”

Al: (bigger smile…clapping his hands a couple times as he said) “Oh my God!!! That is awesome!!!”

Me: “You just broke the 3rd commandment…”


I assume Al had some negative experiences related to seminary.  I didn’t ask.  And that isn’t what this post is about.  I’ve never been and I don’t pretend that makes me more “sincere/honest/etc.” than someone who has.  I just remember that conversation so clearly because he is the only person who seemed so outrageously impressed that I was a server.  I still am not quite sure why.

Today I started my new job here.  Once again I am a server at a bar and grill.  This time I don’t work at an extremely corporate place, so it is quite a bit more relaxed than my previous serving job.  

Also today, I met up with a guy named Joseph.  He is responsible for the high school small groups at the church we attend.  I checked a box saying I would be interested with working with students and also leading a small group.  He called me and asked to meet up at Starbucks.  

Joseph wanted to know about me.  Rightly so, before I would be allowed to fill out an application to spend time and influence teenagers.  He started out by asking what I was “doing for work”.  I told him that in a few hours I would start my first day at my new job.  He was familiar with the place and said, “that’s great that you found a job.”

Then we sat down with our cool coffee like drinks and Joseph said, “I want to get to know you better.  You can start wherever you’d like in your life story, but tell me about your high school experience and how you ended up at our church wanting to volunteer your time with our students.”

Joseph and I then had about an hour and a half of great conversation about my life and about his and how we both ended up where we were in that moment today at Starbucks.  It was like my current occupation as a server and his current job as an employee of a church didn’t define us in any way.  We got to share our own stories (that included employers) on who we were as people.  What made us tick.  What made us laugh.  

It was a great encouragement/reminder to me that the way that I earn money is not what defines me.  Just as when I previously worked at a church, it didn’t define me.  Just as a stay-at-home mom doesn’t completely define that person.  

I work at a restaurant.  I am good at what I do.  I don’t make a lot of money doing it.  

At the end of my life, my wife is not going to remember how good of a server I was.  She isn’t going to focus on how well I could sing.  She isn’t going to mostly miss my writings.

 If she outlives me, she will miss me being a husband to her.  And that will have very little to do with my job.

So, I will try to remind myself that my job really isn’t the most important thing.  No matter how great/boring/stressful/$$$$/religious it is…it is my job.  It doesn’t define my marriage (hopefully).  It doesn’t define me as a dad (hopefully).  It doesn’t define me as a person…unless I allow it to.

1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do (wait tables, answer phones, lead worship, be a husband/wife, be a father/mother, own your own company, lawyer, police officer, speech therapist, financial analyst, artist, blogger, fitness instructor, collector, dog walker, reader, cooker, spend a weekend “away”, engineer, musician, go to the grocery store, eat out at a restaurant, surf the internet, etc.), do it all for the glory of God.”

God seems really interested in what really makes me tick, as well as things that I simply have to do during my day.  I’ll keep that in mind as I go back to work tomorrow.  And as I do things that I consider more important than work.