October 20, 2017

The Engagement Story – James Cartee and Lisa Ciuffetelli

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Lisa and I originally met online through a dating website named OKCupid. We have had a blessed journey while getting to know each other in the last two years. There have certainly been some growing experiences up the point of our engagement. I will admit this truth – Lisa is the first and only woman I have ever dated who fought to keep our relationship healthy and intact. With a personal spiritual revelation, she always showed, in many ways, that she wanted to be with me!

In addition to her relationship with Jesus, her never-ending passion to become a better person is certainly one of her finest and most attractive qualities. Her strong will towards self-fulfillment therefore also inspires me to be a better man for her and a future family with children as a father.

Many people keep asking the story of our engagement. So I decided to write a blog entry about our Memorial Day weekend adventure.

Lisa arrived on a plane from Austin, Texas, where she currently resides, into Birmingham, Alabama at approximately 3:30 p.m. Lisa enjoys a good shopping experience. We had planned a photography session for Monday morning. Of course, we did what every couple does for an engagement photo session; we went shopping. I bought Lisa a jean skirt, a boutique green dress (the one in the pictures included in this blog entry), a formal navy blue dress, and a new pair of tan sandals. I wanted her to feel appreciated for all that she does to support me in my own goals and personal endeavors.

That Saturday evening, May 28, 2016, Lisa and I went to eat at Flemings Steakhouse, located in The Summit shopping mall, where I ate a shrimp and scallop delicacy with a Caesar salad and grilled asparagus. Lisa ordered tuna filets with a shared vanilla crème brulee. Of course, we also had some wine to top off a wonderful evening. We went home to watch a movie afterwards.

After a brisk walk the next morning in Homewood, Sunday, my sister, Allison, and Mom surprised Lisa by taking her to lunch and to get her nails done for the photography appointments, a manicure and a pedicure.

At approximately 5:00 p.m., I took Lisa to the Vulcan Statue Museum and Park – a landmark for the city of Birmingham, much like the Statue of Liberty in New York City. While Brendon Pinola, one of the best wedding photographers in Birmingham, took pictures from a distance of approximately 50-60 away, with the city skyline in the background, I specifically planned to propose to Lisa at sunset here at this location. I hired Brendon to shoot both this occasion and an engagement session the next Monday morning on Memorial Day. Lisa was unaware that Brendon would be shooting us in the distance with his zoom lens in addition to a brief photography session that evening in her new green dress and sandals.

We toured the museum and went to the top of the viewing tower to then eventually come back down. As I pretended that we needed to go over to the side of the park viewing platform for the best view of the city, I quickly bent down on one knee. Lisa nervously asked, “What are you doing?”

I replied, “I have been thinking about this question for a long time. Will you please marry me? Will you please be my wife?”

While Lisa hesitated for a few long seconds, I grew a little worried in anticipation. She whispered, “Yeeeesssss.” I breathed deeply in relief, thankful for the answer I had long hoped for. Even with all my planning and special treatment, Lisa was unaware this would be her long awaited weekend. She was crying almost uncontrollably. It was difficult for her to spew out an answer in the overwhelming feelings of the moment. She knew an engagement question was coming soon, just not this past Memorial Day.

After the actual question of the hour and our first photo session with Brendon, we went to eat at The Village Tavern, where my Mom, sister, Allison, and five other mutual close friends waited to surprise Lisa in celebration of the occasion when we arrived at the restaurant. Three mutual friends drove all the way from Atlanta, Georgia to Birmingham, Alabama just for the dinner and then back in the same evening. While I cannot remember what Lisa ate, I order and relished a fresh trout fillet, lightly breaded and fried in bourbon sauce.

After a late dinner, I was exhausted. I had spent the previous two weeks planning Lisa’s visit. We were not quite in the mood to go out further to another bar restaurant to extend the party. Instead we chose to relax and watch another movie at my apartment.

The next morning we met Brendon for our second engagement photography session, continuing with more Birmingham landmarks, including Morris Avenue, The Peanut Depot, the Rotary Trail, and Railroad Park.

In addition to celebrating the event with close friends and family, the photos with Brendon presented a frozen moment in time. We recorded the special moment for just Lisa and I. Our eyes locked both in shock of the moment but also assurance we had each found our soul mate. Sharing the photo sessions was probably my favorite part of the experience, especially when Brendon was so cleverly able to catch the moment when I actually proposed to Lisa.

I look forward to spending the rest of my life with Lisa Ciuffetelli, soon to be Mrs. James L. Cartee, III!

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*Special thanks to professional photos were taken by Brendon Pinola of Brendon Pinola Photography. He is a great photography if you seek such services.

Relationships….The tortoise always wins.

I continue to find male-female relationships both exciting and perplexing. While two people communicate well, different sexes will always communicate differently. Men seem to prefer fast cars and anything that involves speed. Women seem okay with the virtue of a patient process where a turtle-wins-the-race philosophy truly comes into play.

I think the above scenario in the famous television drama show, Everybody Loves Raymond, illustrates the hilarity that ensues with how decisions come to be. While limited in experience, I certainly make decisions differently than my female friendship counterparts. I rarely need to contemplate several days over my schedule when I ask someone to do something. I usually prefer someone check their schedule and let me know. How complicated can planning really be?

Well, I know guys and girls are certainly not made the same way. I am slowly learning patience in the process to wait when one asks for good things to come.

Our Christian sisters are not like their Christian brothers. While not the most obvious when it comes to life’s reality, give what you seek as good its good due time to process, move forward, and develop into something more.

What you seek eventually will come. Sometimes all you have to do is ask, wait, and wonder as God marvels at the patience learned, which brings the best blessings that will ever be, a relationship with Christ and perhaps a relationship with someone your dreams enveloped into existence. Remember, with the fable of the tortoise (turtle) and hare (rabbit), the tortoise did after all win the race.

You faith family matters! The journey more than the destination…#TWO

Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

With my last blog entry, I decided to continue from there with a series on the idea of family. While simple to consider, this blog text focuses on discovering community through Christian relationships, through a church if possible.

I currently attend Grace Midtown Church in Atlanta, Georgia, just a few miles from where I live. The church focuses on house churches, or perhaps better thought of as organized small groups. While I live about three hours from my father and mother and then about four hours from my sister, brother-in-law, and two nephews, out of my normal every day reach, I thrive on the next best thing, my second next-of-kin circles at church.

Grace Midtown is unlike any church I ever attended. With my outgoing personality, I tend to be the one who pursue friendships with other people. I find the exact opposite to be true at Grace; others will find you.

As Christians, I believe my current church home sets an example to emulate, how churches should outreach to newcomers and communities who need some light in the midst of adversity.

If lonely and shut-in, I urge you to find a community of believers and connect. Watch yourself never be the same ever again with personal and intentional involvement. If never tried before, give a specific church practicing a real life of abundance (a body of contemporary, relational Christians living in the present) one year of your life, and I promise your life will change forever.

Those who commune in the name of Jesus build an eternal brotherhood and sisterhood, blessed way beyond what a casual relationship will ever live up to. Build a body. Build a bridge. And watch slowly as you grow into the person you always wanted to be simply because you decided to surround yourself with the right people.

I found the following Christian series by Francis Chan and his wife, Lisa, (author of Crazy Love and Forgotten God) extremely insightful as it relates to building meaningful relationships with others. Enjoy!

PART ONE

PART TWO

My Best Christmas Gift This Year – A New Home in Grace Midtown, Atlanta, Georgia – Video Imagery!

12 It is not an enemy who taunts me—
I could bear that.
It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me—
I could have hidden from them.
13 Instead, it is you—my equal,
my companion and close friend.
14 What good fellowship we once enjoyed
as we walked together to the house of God.
Psalm 55:12-14 (NLT)

You know – coming to a new place and town can always be somewhat daunting for those taking the pilgrimage for new opportunities. I have backpacked around the world through Europe, South America, and the continental United States. However the move to Atlanta felt like a move to China for me. I stressed about it in both unusual and unique ways as I was about to experience a test unlike ever faced before; however that is not the subject of this blog and journal entry, even though adversity has been withstood.

In the last two months, I radically experienced two different spectrums of faith: religious churches versus real churches. When I mention a religious church, I mean a legalistic body that follows protocol, rank of title, and certain constitutional procedures and policies. We live Christ in the confines of these guiding principles, placing Jesus in the realm of a box or church structure.

On the flip side, I experienced a real church with real people in the relationships evident at Grace Midtown Church, the home I will inevitably join if I am granted my wish and blessing to make Atlanta my permanent residence for a few many years. Grace is not solely defined by a box of rules. This body of God is defined by the teaching of a real and live Jesus Christ.

Probably more than ever before, through the internet, face-to-face interaction, and phone calls, I have felt more called (literally and spiritually) to this church for growth in addition to security and comfort in an unfamiliar place with recent troublesome and turbulent circumstances. The following video gives a slight feel for how this church rises up to higher heights, much like Birmingham Church of the Highlands, another purpose-driven real community.

I took my home church, Church of the Highlands, extremely for granted when I firsthand experienced a really bad religious institution here in Atlanta upon first moving here. While some might think it wrong to blog about any such church, it became increasingly apparent between stagnant structure of so-called faith versus a life-breathing organization that brings fresh air to our lungs in relationship, small fellowship, and Big Time plays for heaven size purposes. When I escaped the perils of that lost freedom of boredom and routine, I found Grace Midtown House Churches through the referrals of friends in Auburn, Birmingham, and an unusual phone conversation with a rather special college junior obsessed with Arabic culture and building the firm foundation of house churches within Grace Midtown.

And so as you can see in the previous video, I found a home of real people with real worship and real intentions to ask me about me and invite me to activities without my lead, a very unusual social approach. In other words, I am used to introducing myself and meeting others. It was nice to have others do that in my direction, in my favor, and in pursuit of joint relationship with Christ. More people prayed over me at Grace Midtown in six weeks than a year anywhere else I have ever been. Now that is a Christmas present of fellowship worth blogging about! Have your way with me here, Lord! Have your way with me!

Grace Midtown, I owe you an extreme multitude of many thanks and appreciation. While I am not sure where God will place me in 2013, I am so firmly glad and grateful for the meaning you restored into new life relationships, strengthening my faith for a firm presence of mind to rise next year as a new creation. I am ready and willing to be a part of your family once my destination is set, delivered, and whispered into existence. Thank you for the best Christmas present I received this year – your body of believers!

If you, as a reader of my blog, find a faith community like this, you will truly never be the same as these videos illustrate including this past Christmas service at the Gwinnett County Civic Center and Arena. I challenge you this Christmas and this New Year in 2013 to find something that will never make you feel the same again as you live and pursue Christ in the present in real community. Find a body of believers to celebrate holidays like this!

Intentional Living through Christ with Intentional Decisions and Communication

“Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” Psalm 37:4-5 (KJV)

I mentioned on this previous blog entry my new family member through future marriage, Joe Friday. I guess in reality I will call him my cousin-in-law. In truth I always felt like he was family. Joe represents honor in its formidable truest fruit of the Spirit. Psalm 37:4-5 depicts his walk with the Lord almost perfectly. In pursuit of what he believed to be true, he never wavered and thus eventually received the desires of his heart.

He persistently through challenges and in some ways against the odds accomplished a feat that I might have given up on at this point in my life. I perhaps have fallen more than most when it comes to my own love life. I have epic saga stories of one written dramatic performance after the other. The love life narratives provide for an interesting text in my first major book expected to release some time in the next two years. While the stories will make you laugh, they make me cry.

I do not doubt the drive in my life to accomplish; however I do doubt society where Christianity lives in the shadow of selfishness and often corrupt politics to “serve the masses,” through the sacrifice of a few. For two years, I have written, edited, and polished a strong three hundred page manuscript with a full time job while also trying to start a business, not to mention an online presence and constant content generation for this blog. And yet I still have not given up on the dream to become a well-known, published author. I probably will never stop writing. I have come to enjoy the creation of words just that much. I am also dedicated to losing weight as I train for two half-marathons and two full marathons. I consider myself driven in many ways and push myself about hard as I am able in so many ways. The pursuit becomes exhausting. Is the pursuit of a significant other supposed to be so hard?

A while I ago I spoke late into the night with a friend where I feel that I failed to communicate on every level, and I have a Master’s Degree in Communication. I am not sure I will ever claim to understand the complexities of gender communication. I wish I could have had Deborah Tanner’s book, That Is Not What I Meant, in my lap whiling talking to this particular female. It was and is clear in my mind this just may not work out with my most recent attempt to pursue and woo.

Ideally I hope that the pair of two people should just click. Joe Friday and Matteye Monday just clicked even when others tried to separate these star crossed lovers. They stayed the course and prevailed to the dream of a marriage union through engagement.

I believe and even witnessed that Joe made an intentional decision to follow his faith for six years. In my finite mind, that sounds like a really long time. No one else knew his course but him. In fact, many probably encouraged and even perhaps tried to persuade him to give up. Now following your heart when everything else around you suggests to do otherwise (including supposed wise counsel), that is intentional living with an intentional decision. “This is what I am going to do because I know this is what I am supposed to do.” Now that is unwavering faith with an intentional decision! While I pursue such ideals with my own personal direction and ambitions, I struggle to do so with a girl. In fact, nice guys often get stuck in the “give-me-a-chance” syndrome. Since when did good Christian guys need to use consent or permission to spend time with a female? Are men given the ability to lead anymore? Or do girls sit back choosing and selecting the cream of the crop while guys pursue and put it all out there? These questions boggle my mind as Southern Culture perverts the fun of dating and getting to know someone. As mentioned before in Twitter feeds and blog entries, it all has to be so serious all the time. All I want to do is watch lions on a field, or in a better case Auburn Tigers at a football game with someone to experience the absolute most imaginable fun possible.

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ” Isaiah 30:21 (NIV)

Joe certainly lived this verse in its essence in the promise God makes. I would like to think I am listening to hear “the way” wherever that might be with the Lord’s lead.

I do not think Matteye ever needed convincing of Joe’s character. She just knew. I again hope and believe that is how it will work with whoever you or I belong to in a relationship or a marriage. And hopefully even further no one will need convincing. Love or like (loving or liking someone) should NOT be a sought-after bargaining chip where once you do a certain something (buying flowers, writing sincere apology letters, or speaking over the phone for extended periods of time) everything in the world is well again. If someone needs further convincing on why they should date you or whoever, perhaps they miss the God-given chance to something special with someone who loves the Lord with all their heart. There is certainly a getting-to-know you stage, but there is also a chance-to-dance stage. While a good fight for a good gal can bring forth great fruit, make sure your heart remains intact if you make the same decision Joe made for the duration of six years. He knew in his heart this was right. And apparently Matteye did too. If the other person lacks that foresight, then perhaps like me in the past, you are both talking with and pursuing the wrong person. Find another potential significant other who is just as intrigued for and by you as you are for them. God’s promises are evident and clear in His Holy Word:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15 (NIV)

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5 (NIV)

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

If you have thoughts on this on this entry, I am open to feedback and criticism. There is room for comments on what you think, and I am eager to see just who is reading this entry and why.

The following questions remain unanswered on the readers’ part. What do you think about the following?

1.) Is the pursuit of a significant other supposed to be so hard?

2.) Since when did good Christian guys need to use consent or permission to spend time with a female?

3.) Are men given the ability to lead anymore?

4.) Or do girls sit back choosing and selecting the cream of the crop while guys pursue and put it all out there?

The GROWTH Track Series – Reach Out! (Step One)

I. Reach Out

As mentioned in the introduction to the series I sincerely believe this new series will change lives in the process of seeking dreams, remaining persistent, and looking forward (never looking back on the past with regrets). God develops us as we process through present resistance and adversity. In the last two years, I am just now realizing and pursuing ambitions to the point where open doors present themselves that I will passionately enjoy through the concept of joy. I lost joy in the fact that I really never liked waking up to a routine with not much eternal influence as I perceived it. I really seek to change lives without the twist of moral fiber within my heart, and I believe that search will soon become fulfilled with a dream fulfilled, something I desire to do in other words. I recently heard a message with some of the concepts, but I chose to extend the idea further with specific steps I perceived in my personal relationship with Christ and journey to eternity. The principles support themselves with foundations through Scripture. The series will break down into the following portions. I really again firmly believe that researching His Word to discover such standards will change your perspective as it has with mine, often trying to remain patient in a world of stagnancy.

I. Reach Out
II. Connect
III. Grow
IV. Discover Your Passion with a FOCUS on God!
V. Pursue the Dream
VI. Choose and Pursue Your Eternal Direction
VII. GO and DO!

The first step to reach out helps us realize as believers understand that we are truly better together as teams instead of just individuals.

FIRST Relevant Scripture for these sub-points – “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans 15:7 (NIV)

A.) If reached through the Body of Christ, reach out and accept.

Take charge to connect with the body. At some point, you must make the decision to step out to receive acceptance and love from newly founded relationships.

B.) If observing one who needs to be reached, reach out!

Not every new believer reaches out so quickly, nervous of rejection. Sometimes as believers we must reach out to them. The relationship dualistically and inversely goes both ways. Someone might say a relationship is a two way street.

SECOND Relevant Scripture for these sub-points – “In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, And His children will have a place of refuge.” Proverbs 14:26 (NKJV)

A.) Never be afraid to reach out and connect.

I believe as we stand in the Grace of God we never fear to connect or step out in faith often out of our comfort zones. God extends confidence even when not in our element; we find a place of refuge in newly explored opportunities as we reach out to try something new.

THIRD Relevant Scripture for these sub-points –

“Therefore prepare yourself and arise,
And speak to them all that I command you.
Do not be dismayed before their faces,
Lest I dismay you before them.
For behold, I have made you this day
A fortified city and an iron pillar,
And bronze walls against the whole land—
Against the kings of Judah,
Against its princes,
Against its priests,
And against the people of the land.
They will fight against you,
But they shall not prevail against you.
For I am with you,” says the LORD, “to deliver you.”
Jeremiah 1:17-19 (NKJV)

A.) Those who stand against outreach best beware. They will never prevail against the deliverance of God.

This passage sends chills up my spine as God warns those who stand against believers who profess to know him. In life I witnessed many times when individuals turned a grudge or offense into a personal mission to devastate and shatter the will of a devout believer, only perturbed when nothing happens. In many cases with those seeking to instigate a dispute, harm comes onto them with God’s divine protection on His Chosen Ones. Straightforward when we practice outreach to others and for our own sake, God delivers, even when we must rise up in prayer against those who rise against us. We must believe and know that those who stand against us stand no chance because God divinely appointed us as brothers and sisters in communion with a Heavenly family.

The following are two more verses that I find relevant to reaching out to connect with others. Make note and take to heart God’s Word here.

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” John 6:37 (ESV)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

I think these are some sermon messages on this day’s chosen topic to reach out, that may potentially touch you. You got to love some Time Square Church with David Wilkerson and TD Jakes classic sermons. The TD Jakes clip is rather long. If viewing it, I would fast forward to the sermon segment.