Good evening and welcome to my going away party.
I want to thank Bill and Sylvette Cancel for organizing this much appreciated event. Of course, I can’t thank my parents-Eduardo and Martha Cepeda enough for agreeing to provide their home. Want to thank them especially for loving me unconditionally, as I truly am blessed to have these amazing parents. For those of you who don’t know them, please take some time this evening to get to know them. I also thank my brother, Marco, my sister in law, Aliyah, and my sister, Diana and brother in law, John Dean for driving here to join us this evening. Marco, I love you bro., thank you for always being a great brother and letting me know when I mess up, I know it’s for my own good. Aliyah, thank you for inspiring me to pursue my LPC. I am very proud of all your accomplishments. I hope to be in your shoes one day. Diana and John, thank you for being so generous and helping me offset some huge financial burdens as I prepare for this move to Houston. John, next time we should find a dumpster that isn’t as high. Thanks for the good laugh, I hope that funny moment was as memorable for you as it is for me. You all have a place to stay in Houston. No invitation required.
Lastly, I want to thank each of you. I know some of you had prior obligations but decided to be here instead. So truly, I appreciate your sacrifice.
I am sure for those who have ever moved to a new city, you know just how difficult it can be to leave everything and everyone that you were familiar with. Life transitions can be challenging for even the most free-spirited and courageous person. To this day, I still admire my sister, Diana, for living in so many awesome places by herself. That is courageous.
I briefly want to give you a history of my journey here up until this point. Don’t worry, it won’t be long and boring.
I came from El Paso exactly four years and one week ago today.
I knew many people in El Paso, but the concept of a friend was that of having a drinking buddy or a gym workout partner. Any kind of friendship was just relegated to speaking about those things that weren’t personal; basically talking about those safe subjects that prevent us from truly getting to know someone.
In that sense, I really did not forge those friendships that Hallmark Cards like to advertise and make a profit of selling. I thought that the concept of friendship was artificial, generic, and didn’t exist, at least not to my understanding and experience of it.
Then I read about what The Bible had to say about friendship and I came upon this verse taken from The Book of John chapter 15 Verse 13: “No Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. “
Although my faith life had always been pretty strong, when I initially moved to San Antonio, I started becoming disillusioned. I committed several mistakes. Setback after setback would have me turning to my last resort: St. Matthew Catholic Church. It was where I would attend mass nearly every Sunday. However, I really did not bother to live out the faith during the other days of the week. Prayer was just something to be done while kneeling on the pews, and if I prayed at all during the week, it was only because I needed something from God. I was devoid of any reverence, of any gratitude, and lived only for what I could get out of life. I could care less about what I put into it. Satisfying all temporal and carnal pleasures quickly became old and boring. There had to be more…
My desperate plea in searching for more came in the form of an ACT’s Retreat, which I attended in 2011. Although it was an amazing experience, unfortunately the fire that most everyone feels on the retreat was short lived and I quickly reverted to old destructive habits.
Then one day I was called to be a part of team. As much as I was thrilled, I didn’t feel qualified since I had been living out my faith in a very lukewarm manner. Nevertheless, I accepted the invitation. For those of you who have attended an ACTs Retreat, you know that being a retreatant is one thing, but actually working on team is beyond what words can describe. In fact, I believe it is radical. It is radical in the sense that goes against conventional wisdom, which goes something like this: Look out only for yourself and be the best; even if that means using or hurting people along the way. Joining team was radically changing my life as many of you can attest to the weekend’s power.
After retreat’s end, how could I keep that fire burning? There was a particular talk that weekend about keeping the power alive in your daily life. This talk truly resonated with me, because that is exactly what I did not want to happen. I did not want to revert to my former life. One tip in particular stood out from the rest. It was the suggestion of joining or forming a weekly men’s bible or mass study. After receiving an email invitation to join one, I decided to attend one evening. It wasn’t easy though. I was in the parking lot looking for “familiar faces,” before deciding whether or not to go inside. As you can see in this room, I think you know what decision I made.
My first night, I didn’t speak much and just observed the group dynamics. It seemed okay. A handful of men getting together to talk about the upcoming mass readings and how those readings apply to our lives seemed like a spiritually-nourishing and healthy thing to do.
At the end of the meeting, a man named Bill Cancel took a very short time to speak to me individually. Mind you, very short by Bill’s time standards, was approximately an hour and 15 minutes. What stood out the most about this “short talk” was that Bill didn’t care too much for the usual suspect questions of what I did for a living, but rather he cared to know who I was. Typically, you don’t meet people for the first time and expect yourself to be revealing personal details.
Upon driving home that evening, I knew that I was going to attend regularly. Nearly three years later, I am overly blessed to have true friendships. But what’s even more remarkable isn’t just the mere friendships formed. I believe that we have formed a spiritual kinship. Since its inception, this group had been nameless. Eventually, we voted on a name and agreed to call it the Eleventh Hour Disciples taken from the Book of Matthew Chapter 20: Verses 1-16.
The Workers in the Vineyard.* 1“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4* and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ 5So they went off. [And] he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. 6Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ 8* a When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ 9When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. 10So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. 11And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ 13He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you.* Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14* Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? 15[Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ 16* Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
In retrospect, I realized that those cheesy Hallmark Cards could be true. One can have true friendship in this life. To give you an example, out of the 30 years of living in El Paso, I left behind countless of acquaintances, but can honestly say that I made only two true and lasting friends. Out of the four years of living in San Antonio, what can I say except to stop right now and see for yourself that I have more than two true friendships present.
I am thankful for my ACTs Brothers who truly have given of their time, their prayers, and compassion during some of my darkest moments, and yes even celebrated with me during the happiest of moments.
Collectively, we laugh, we cry, we have heated debates, but most importantly we come together as united men on a weekly basis to strengthen and solidify our life journey, rooted in the love of Christ. Though we mess up and will continue on doing so, we still strive to fight the good fight and finish the race laid out before us. It is through these encounters that I am reminded of Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Even though no one likes to have their mistakes or flaws pointed out, that is the only way we can grow. When I mess up, even though I don’t like to hear it, I know it’s only for my own good.
So paradoxically, even though this is my party, and each of my ACTS brothers has taught me something, I am laying down the spotlight to focus it on Bill Cancel who truly has a servant’s heart. Through his dedication, perseverance, natural leadership, and utmost in selflessness, Bill exemplifies the kind of man who truly would lay down his life for his friends. There has never been a moment that I am aware of, where he turned away someone in need. If you are a stranger to Bill, Bill will make you feel welcome.
So Brother Bill, please accept this plaque of appreciation this evening for emulating what a follower of Christ should act like in word and deed.
May it serve as just a small gesture of our utmost and sincere appreciation from our Wednesday night 11th Hour Disciples Bible Study. May God continue to bless and keep you safe as you continue fishing for more men desperately searching for the truth; the truth and fulfillment that can only be found when one lays down their lives for another and becomes a friend of Christ.
As for me, you will always have a home in Houston. And this is not a going away party: it’s a see you later party!