Tommy Pierro’s Legacy: He Showed Up

Years ago I wrote a post called Everybody Needs a Jim Frew which was about my Dad’s best friend who passed away tragically and unexpectedly many years ago. This week I too lost one of my best friends, Tommy Pierro, after battling serious health issues including cancer this past year.

Tommy Pierro was an amazing friend. We met Tommy and his wife Naomi in 2005. They picked us up from the airport during our second trip to interview for a job at Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle. After we accepted the position and moved to Long Island, he was the first one to arrive to help us unload the moving truck.

Through the years we became very close. We loved going to Yankees games together, hardly ever missed meeting up at Miller’s Ale House to watch UFC cards late on Saturday nights, and went to a live Bellator MMA card together. We did youth ministry together for 6 years, and he was the model youth worker. But my favorite thing about him … he was Uncle Tommy to our girls. As they were growing, and as we were serving in ministry, Adriana and I knew that we really needed other loving, caring adults to be in our daughters’ lives. Nobody did it better than Uncle Tommy. He was a staple at family gatherings, was at every major milestone in our girls’ journeys, and would always find a way to be at Natalia’s softball games. We would see him walking across the field with his chair with a little side table and his bag of snacks and a coffee.

Tommy’s nickname was Rock, and he lived up to his name through his consistency, steadfastness, faithfulness, and servant’s heart. If I had 3 words that captured what made Tommy so special to so many people, they would be simply: He showed up.

As I said of Jim Frew, everybody needs a Tommy Pierro. And yet, as I have reflected on Tommy’s life over the past months, and more specifically, over the past couple of days since he passed, I would suggest something more. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from Tommy is that even if we may not all have a Tommy Pierro, we can all BE a Tommy Pierro. We can show up. Simply being there for people is, I believe, just as, if not more, powerful that anything we can say.

When I learned Tommy was in the hospital, I made the decision that I was going to be there for him, just as he had always been there for us. I wanted him to look up from his hospital bed and see me walking into his room, sometimes totally unexpectedly, just as we used to look up and see him walking toward the softball field. Sometimes our conversations were deep and profound, more often they were simply just two guys talking about life, family, sports, and making each other laugh.

Some days he was completely unconscious and unaware that I was even there, but I showed up. I wanted to be there to give Naomi a bit of relief, to give her some company, to be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and to pray with her. I wanted to be there in case Tommy awoke and needed anything. I wanted to be there in case some monitor started beeping and the nurses needed to be notified. I wanted to be there if none of the above happened. I simply wanted to be present with my friend.

I told him so many times over the past months during countless times being with him in the hospital, “I love ya dude!” I am thankful that we had so much time together over the last months of his life. It was painful to see him deteriorate, but it was a precious time and an honor to be with him as he was always there for us.

Tommy, thank you for your friendship and the impact you had on our lives. You left an amazing legacy that we will cherish. I love ya dude! I will miss you terribly. I will do my best to honor your legacy by showing up, and by telling your story and inviting other people to love Jesus by showing up for others like you did.

Until we meet again, cheers!

Throwback Thursday: A Fun Family Idea

Throwback Thursday. #TBT. Every week on Thursdays you will find people posting pictures from their past. It’s such a fun way to remember years gone by.

Last week our daughters were visiting from Arizona, and on Thursday we decided to do #TBT a bit differently. Instead of just posting pics, we decided to take a trip down memory lane. We spent the entire day driving to spots that we went to often when the girls were little. We went to the local beach we enjoyed picnicking at, had lunch at our favorite pizzeria, visited their elementary and middle schools, took a stroll in one of our favorite parks, went to the mall, and got pastries from our favorite bakery. It was so much fun sharing stories and reliving memories. It gave a whole new meaning to Throwback Thursday. I’d encourage you to try it out with your family.

Would love to hear your feedback.

  • What are fun things you do/did as a family to build memories?
  • If you try this activity, let us know how it went.

Too Busy Not to Be There

Fall is upon us. Everything is cranking back up. School, sports, band, chorus, clubs, church programs, and more.

Years ago author Bill Hybles wrote a book entitled Too Busy Not to Pray. He was onto something. As a leader and pastor of a huge church the demands upon him were great. Prayer is one of those things that can easily seem like a waste of time when you have so much work to do. But Bill understood that the busier he was, the more he needed to pray, because by praying he was admitting that he was completely dependent on God. In prayer he spoke with God about the burdens on his heart, the weight of his responsibilities, and asked God to show him what he should be putting his efforts into that day. He confessed his weaknesses and asked God for His strength to do the work God was asking him to do. He was simply too busy not to pray.

One of the common things I hear from both parents and students on a regular basis is that they are just too busy. “Megan has a big test to study for,” they say, or “Ryan has a lot of homework,” or “I have practice after school.” I don’t just hear these things from other students or parents; these realities are in my own home! I have teenagers, and our family is right there with you. The struggle is real!

And yet, I want to challenge all of us to have a paradigm shift. The truth is we are all busy! When I speak to students and parents, it is this reality that drives me to say, “Our busyness is precisely why we must make time to be together.” I wrote this down a few years ago: Our feet reveal our values. Where we choose to spend our time communicates what is most important to us. When, in the middle of our busy week, we take a time out — when we choose to stop for a couple of hours to take a breather, to be with other Christians who have also stepped out of the rat race to catch their breath — we are saying some important things.

We are testifying that we are followers of the way of Jesus not simply minions of our culture. We are getting together to hear what God says about how to live well.

We are humbly admitting our weakness as humans, and our need for rest and refreshment. We can’t just go, go, go all of the time. Even Jesus (God living as a human) needed time away from His busy schedule, and He told His disciples to disconnect from their busyness as well. (See Mark 1:35-37; 6:31)

We are confessing that our strength comes from the Lord, not simply from our efforts and will power.

We are reminding ourselves that we are not alone. We offer one another the gift of fellowship. We are supporting our fellow-strugglers by gathering together to share and listen and pray for one another.

And finally, we are obeying God’s Word which says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

My challenge to you is to not see youth group, small group, or church generally as just another thing you have to do — an item on a checklist. It is not extra credit; it is a core requirement of life. Taking a time out isn’t the most efficient use of time, but it is essential to your health.

Money Matters for Students

“Kev, money just burns holes in your pockets.” I remember riding in the car with my Grandpa as a little kid when he said that to me. I had just received a few bucks and I desperately wanted to spend them on something that wasn’t very important. Money wasn’t in instant supply when I was a kid, so when I got some, I had a thousand things lined up calling for it when I did get it.

I don’t know about you, but as an adult I wish someone had taken the time to really talk to me about how to manage money when I was a kid. Certainly people like my parents pointed me to the Bible and tried to steer me on the right path, but I don’t recall ever having a detailed, intentional explanation of financial matters until I had been married for several years. One of my uncles was a financial advisor and took some time to sit down and talk with me about how to budget, save, etc.

At Shelter Rock Church, our student ministry vision statement is to see students become fully-devoted, passionate, life-long followers of Jesus. Each of those three parts of the statement are important. We want students to understand that Jesus being Lord of our lives means that He is the center of every relationship and everything that we are involved in. We want students to experience that life with Jesus is not boring, but the greatest adventure you could ever imagine. And we want equip students to honor God all the days of their lives. To that extent this year we are going to be talking with our students about handling money.

I am really excited that this semester in our small groups we are going to be taking all of our students through Generation Change, the student version of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I believe equipping our students so intentionally and strategically in this area of their lives will really give them a great head-start and empower them to live their lives free to be and do everything God has planned for them.

“Turning The Page” a Poem for Claudia

IMG_1746Today I turned the page
It is the last in the chapter
Tomorrow starts a new one
I wonder what comes after

But today I savor
I enjoy the last few words
Taking snapshots in my mind
Of all that’s seen and heard

Trying to live in the moment
To read this page, not skip to the next
I’m anxiously anticipating
Don’t know what to expect

Focus on this page
But I begin to reminisce
The story that’s been thus far
Laughter, tears, so many moments

Sure we’ll have more
But this chapter is through
We’ll see each other less
Shared moments will be few

It’s been quite a journey
Lots of ups, a few downs
Smiling, fun memories
Only more impactful because of a few frowns

I hope you’ll always treasure
The lessons that you’ve learned
Highest of all follow Jesus
God’s will utmost to be discerned

No we haven’t been perfect
But we hope you know we tried
Many have been our failures
And for these our eyes have cried

But our sorrow is turned to joy
When we feel God’s embrace
This story has been and will always be
Filled with His love and grace

So as I finish this page
A little sadness, but a whole lot of excitement
An adventure awaits
Go live your divine assignment

And Then There Was One

IMG_1743

This is it. Today is the last day before Claudia leaves for Nyack College to begin her freshman year. Over the past few years I have written about the two jars I keep on my dresser – one for each of my girls (Links below). Inside each jar are beads that I have counted out representing the days our daughter have at home before they head off into the next season of their lives after their high school years. Every morning when I am getting ready for my day I remove one bead. When I do so I ask myself what I am going to do that day to connect with them, invest in them, make a memory with them, etc. because time is ticking. These beads keep the reality of passing time in front of me. We won’t ever get this season of life back, and I want to make the most of each day. Some days I do a good job. Other days I don’t. Today Claudia’s jar is down to one. Today I have spent some time reflecting on, writing to, and praying for Claudia, and tonight we are going to celebrate by sharing one more experience together. Parents, maximize the time you have with your children whatever season they are in. What can you do today to share a thought, invest in, or create a memory with your kids?

Related: How Jars of Beads Have Affected My Parenting and Beads and Parenting: Two Years Later

 

Guest Post by Claudia Mahaffy: My Faith Journey to College

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Back in the spring of 2015 I was just your average 11th grade student. Touring college campuses and trying to find my best fit. I remember making a check list of everything I wanted in a college, but the only two important ones worth mentioning where: Big and Far from home. Turns out my parents thought other criteria might be more important, and they took me to a place that was the complete opposite. They decided to take me about an hour from our house to a college called Nyack. I was not happy the entire ride up. The school did not meet my criteria, and no one, not even my high school, knew that this place existed.

Well, to make a long story short, after only 5 minutes on campus, I loved it. The diversity, the views, the welcoming faculty. All exterior things, mainly.

Fast forward to late June of this year. I was at my graduation party greeting all my guests. Many of them are church-going people, and they are all congratulating me on my success and telling me that God is really going to do great things for me at Nyack. It was still a couple months away so I wasn’t thinking about it all that much. But two days later my parents sat me down to talk about my future. It’s probably the third scariest talk you can have after the sex talk and the about-to-go-into-high-school talk. I sat there at the end of their bed and after a couple of minutes I in was in tears. They broke the news to me that the financial package the school was offering was just way too high, and they did not want me leaving college buried under the all-too-familiar pile of student loans that many students graduate with. They told me it would be smart for me to transfer to Nyack after completing two years locally.

I had already met my roommate, paid my fees, and gotten my schedule. Now I had to put all that aside and think about my 22 year old self getting out of college. Although it was hard, I knew that what they were saying made sense, and I decided to listen. That night I started finding other colleges to apply to. I shook it off as best I could, put all the emotional aspects aside, and tried to stay focused on making a good future for myself.

About a month later, after about 12 times being put on hold by two local colleges I applied to, I was getting a bit fed up. A month till most colleges started, and I still didn’t know what I was doing, or if it would be too late to apply. Then, two weeks ago, I was on my way home from work and checked my missed calls. I saw that Nyack had tried to reach me. I didn’t think much of it because they didn’t leave a message. My mom joined me on the train, and when I told her about the missed call, I got choked up. My future had been set. I was ready to go to Nyack. And now I was sitting here not knowing what I was doing while all of my friends were gearing up to leave in just a few weeks.

My mom then proceeded to tell me a story I had heard before but really had little to no impact on my life. This time, however, it hit home for me. She told me about a similar incident that had happened to her in college. It was too pricy for her to return to school, but God had made a way and provided for her to go back, and eventually she graduated. She encouraged me to go home and pray and seek God for the answers I needed, and told me that He would give me peace. When she said that I shot everyone a text on my recently texted list and said, “pray for me.” I even sent it to some people I’d be going to Nyack with that I had met online.

When I got home my dad told me that the director of admissions had contacted him in regards to my status, and asked whether or not it was official that I was dropping Nyack as an option for next year. My dad told him the issue and explained that they didn’t want me graduating with such a huge amount of debt. He gave him an amount that he thought would be more reasonable and manageable to pay off, and said if they could get down to that number we would be able to consider it. The director completely understood and said he was going to do everything he could to see if he could find me more money. After hearing that I had to remind myself to be neutral about the situation at hand and remember that things might or might not work out the way I wanted them to. When I got home I went straight to my room and began praying and reading my Bible. I lost a lot of sleep over the next two nights. I attended a prayer meeting where people encouraged me and prayed for me.

A couple days later we sat down as a family and my dad shared the results with me. I was playing out all possible circumstances in my mind, waiting for him to say, “Sometimes God shuts a door, but that’s okay. ” He informed me that he had spoken to the director, and that the director told him he requested and was able to secure enough financial aid to make it feasible for me to go to Nyack. He was within a thousand dollars of the number my dad had given him! I broke down in tears. God had done a miracle, and I had just lived it for myself! I was so amazed at how good He was to me in that moment.

Now, the night before finding all this out, I had been reading the story of how Abraham was tested and was asked by God to sacrifice his son, but was then stopped by a voice from heaven. Then I saw this verse: “Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”)” (Genesis 22:14). That was a huge sign from God for me that gave me peace when I didn’t have any answers. God took me to the top of the mountain, out of my comfort zone, and He provided.

I am so thankful for the opportunity given to me by God. He has deepened my faith and trust in Him. When I first visited Nyack, it was exterior things that caught my attention. During the last few weeks, however, it has been their interior that has impressed me. I have seen the heart of Nyack during this tough time. They are the kind of school I want to be a part of. They didn’t simply shut the door on my face and pity me. They believed that if God wanted me at Nyack He would make a way. Thank you, Nyack admissions staff! Thank you for your giving spirit and the love that you have shown me. I am so blessed to have people who see my potential and want to invest in me. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me these next four years. Thank you to everyone who prayed for me during this season of life! God works in great ways. Trust in him and He will do amazing things.

Claudia’s Graduation 

It’s hard to believe that our baby Claudia is now a high school graduate! We are ao proud of her accomplishment and more importantly the beautiful woman she has become. ​

Challenging Christianity

Comfort Zone/ Challenge Sign ConceptOne of my favorite lines that I repeat often to leaders, parents, and even to students, is that my job, our job in youth ministry (and as parents!) is not to entertain students, but to equip them for life. Our vision statement for our youth ministry is to see students become fully-devoted, passionate, life-long followers of Jesus. In order for that to become a reality, they must be challenged in their thinking and in their practice. We have to stretch them to do hard things … uncomfortable things.

Growth only happens by doing things you’ve never done before.

Just the other day, my friend Thom Schults, founder of Group Publishing, said, “Too many people think if it’s uncomfortable it must be wrong. This is one of the biggest problems in the church today.” How true a statement!

Then, just this morning I was reading Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey in which he quotes Shane Claiborne who said, “I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it’s because we don’t dare them, not because we don’t entertain them. It’s because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives, which is why they play video games and join the army. But what do they do with a church that teaches them to tiptoe through life so they can arrive safely at death?”

As I am writing this, my daughter is texting me about some of the challenging realities of our upcoming mission trip to Jamaica. Because we love students and want to help them see the world as God sees it and want them to have a bold, mature faith, we do not shy away from difficult situations. Of course, safety is very important, we aren’t talking about being stupid and rash. I want to be very clear about this. We do indeed take safety very seriously. That being said, the truth is, if safety was our only consideration, we would never go anywhere new or do anything we’ve never done before. We have to have something higher than safety, and that is a vision.

God’s vision is for the whole earth to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, and we are called to be a part of the advancement of His kingdom. We are called to be agents of light in a dark world. We are to take the light of Christ into dark places, and that inherently means we have to do hard things. So, we go with God’s vision, we go with God’s power (the Holy Spirit living inside of us who gives us wisdom and courage), and we go with God’s promises (not to be free exempt from trouble, but that He will be with us as we go through trouble). Therefore, we say yes to mission of Jesus, even when we don’t know exactly all that will happen, and we move forward with faith as our guide, not fear. Just some thoughts I have as I am spending time with Jesus this morning. I hope they are encouraging, challenging, and helpful.

The People You Meet on Planes

The longer I walk with Jesus the smaller the world gets. I just had another one of those INSANE connections while traveling that only God can orchestrate. Yesterday I bought the upgrade to the exit row for my flight from Detroit to Denver. The lady from Michigan seated next to me, named Marlene, and I engaged in a little small talk, then we settled into our individual reading, uncomfortable napping, etc. I was reading some Philip Yancey and was also working on a wedding I am doing in a few weeks. With about ten minutes left in our flight, the woman inquired as to what kind of training I was going to Colorado for. I told her it is for a camp that I am speaking at this summer. Putting this together with the book I had been reading she asked if I was a pastor, to which I replied I am. She told me her husband had been a pastor and now leads a missions organization. I asked what part of Michigan she was from, and she said, “Rochester Hills.” I told her I used to attend church in the neighboring town of Oxford 20 years ago. I asked if she had heard of Christ The King Churh, and her eyes got really big. “That is the church my husband was a pastor at. His name is Tim Cummings.” I totally remembered him. Not only did we attend that church, we were involved as volunteers in the youth ministry, were (and still are) friends with many people from the church, including several who we had attended Bible college with, and the youth pastor, our good friend Jon Waters asked us if we could help start the youth group at their church plant in Lapeer, Michigan which we did until we moved back to New York. There is no doubt we met 20 years ago during our time at Christ The King, and it was just incredible to find ourselves – a person from New York, and a person from Michigan – sitting next to each other on a plane all these years later. What an amazing thing the family of God is!