The Life-Giving Force Called Community

Whether we like to admit it or not, our spirit’s require a connection to people.  Some of us are blessed to find sacred relationships in our families, while others seek friends to fill the void of the necessary bonds which hold us together.  Whichever way we satisfy our need for community, we invest our hearts and minds into each other, and in so doing, we are made whole.  Life has meaning as we testify on each other’s behalves that we matter.  We are essential to this planet.  Our purpose is made known, and we are better because our hearts are shared with others.

Jesus knew the importance of community.  He lived in a communal setting as his disciples followed on his journey.  They laughed with one another, loved one another, and learned from the very one they followed.  And at the center of many of the best discussions, there was a meal.  Sacred traditions were born out of these observances of holy food.  All the while, sharing the bread and wine with all who gather around the table.  At this feast of Christ, we come to realize that our most precious gifts are discovered in communion with both the divine and one another.

Today I give thanks for the people who walk with me on my journey.  I am reminded that I am not alone.  My path is easier to travel in the presence of those who care for me.  And as I continue down my road, I pray that I may be a light that illuminates the dark path on which someone else my walk.  Together may we all find hope in the darkest of circumstances.  May we know that the God who gives us strength also blesses us with people in our lives to remind us that life may get rough, but you always have a hand to hold.

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Finishing the Hat

Last year I traveled to Chicago and saw the masterpiece “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette.” The artist, Georges Seurat, captured a beautiful scene utilizing a technique known as pointillism. Each dot contributes to the complete work of art. To leave anything out is to change the original intention of the painter. Everything must be included; each dot, each stroke, every speck of color, adding to the rich contextual landscape that makes the picture amazing. The whole work depends on every unique aspect of its parts.

We are like Seurat’s painting. The canvases of our lives weave together rich colors that can only be understood when seen as a full painting. Every dot removed hides a special part of the details that define our truest selves. To take away from the masterpiece of our lives, is to hide the rich gifts with which God blesses us.

Hear the good news, God calls us out of the shadows and into the light. The world needs to see the real you, the one who continuously overcomes the trials of the darkness. Step into the hope of the risen Christ, and allow God to shine in His greatest work, for you are the Creator’s masterpiece. Each color, each dot, each stroke of the Master’s hand brings an assurance of hope and promise.

Unlike the Seurat painting, we are never a finished work of art. God continues to shape us and mold us. “What we are has not yet fully been revealed” (1 Jn 3:2). Our existence is forged within the great mystery of the Holy Spirit.

Praise be to our Creator, who fashions us in holy likeness. We give thanks to the One, who creates every little dot, every color, every stroke of the heavenly brush to design each of us in our unique displays of hues and passions. May we continue to grow in strength and understanding that we are loved beyond anything we can ever understand. May we remember that we are the Father’s greatest works of art.

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When Darkness Comes

We all have those times when life takes a detour, and we find ourselves down a lonely dark road.  There is no light to guide our path, and fear and heartache seem to be the only thing we know.  No matter which way we turn, there is still emptiness.  How do we find our way out of here?  There is no light to guide us.  And so we stay still, waiting for a sign of hope.

I keep thinking, “I did not intend to get to this place.  Where did the road turn to where I am now?” The reality is that life can be unfair at times.  That is the truth.  Life changes on a dime.  One road surrenders itself to another and pretty soon the path is no longer clear and straightforward.

And so, we sit alone in the darkness when all of the sudden, a glimmer of light emerges.  It is small at first; barely visible.  This little sign of hope moves forward to us, and as it does, darkness gives way to the dawn.  The light reminds us of the One, who makes our path clear.  The gift of illumination becomes our way back home.  We had to sit still in the dark with the confidence that light would return to guide us.

Today I am grateful for the reassurance that the dark night of the soul is only for a season.  Life will move forward, and hope will be restored.   This is the root of our faith.  We must embrace it and know that the promise of God will renew our hearts.

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I’m Going Home!

There is nothing like a wonderful trip to a great place.  My time in Chicago proved no exception.  I saw old friends, the musical Hamilton, the Chicago Institute and Art Museum, and had dinner on the Pier several evenings.  I love being in Chicago Land, but I love being with my family more.  So, there is a sense of excitement today as I wait to board the plane.  I’m going home!

This visit to the Windy City reminds me that while there are amazing things to see and do in the world, I’d rather have my family with me.  They are the great loves of my life.  For that, I am truly grateful.  My sons and wife remind me that my life has meaning and purpose.  While I saw some magnificent paintings (Sunday in the Park just to name one), the most beautiful works of art are the smiles on the faces of my family.  They are my greatest masterpieces.

So, today as I wait to board my plane, I give thanks for my stinky sons and my wonderful wife.  I consider myself a very blessed man because they love me and give me a sense of belonging.  This is what we all long for, to know that our lives matter.  My hope is that we all experience this kind of love and acceptance.

Praise to be God that we learn of the Father’s love through the love that others share with us.  This is the gift of life, to have people who love us unconditionally.  This is what teaches us how to be a better people.  May all of us have a glimpse of the Father’s unfailing love.  May we experience this joy through the gift of rerlationships with others.

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Two Roads and a Coloring Book

Recently, I was walking with my son through a store and a coloring book caught my eye. The book was an elaborate adult coloring book and under most situations, I would have not have given it a second thought.  What made this one so special was the subject.  The title on the cover read “The Road Not Taken.”  I couldn’t help but open the book.  Inside I found my favorite poem written by Robert Frost.

The text transported me back to high school and my amazing choir director, Gary Patterson.  How blessed I was to have this amazing man guide me and teach me how to love choral music and the art of music making.  My journey started with this poem. This incredible writing, now asking for color.

I bought the book and procrastinated in beginning to work on the first picture.  What was the proper way to start?  I’m afraid I will mess this up.  It took me some time to realize that the right way to color is the way my spirit guides me.  This is my path, my way.  Under God’s guidance, everyone must choose their own road.

And so, we start with whatever color works for each of us.  Some may utilize rich dark colors, while others paint in lighter hues.  Careful decisions must be left to the discretion of the artist.  We respect each person’s choices.

Today, I give thanks for the journey that calls me to notice colors that make my life richer and more vital.  As school begins, I also remember and give thanks for teachers who changed the trajectory of my life.  I can never express my appreciation for their willingness to show me how to color with a passion that infused my soul.  I am grateful for my music teachers who enriched my life by sharing the joy that singing continues to bring to me.

Who are the teachers who taught you how to color?  Give thanks for those people who made a difference in your life and ignited the divine spark in your heart and soul.  These are the people who matter, for they taught you that you are created in the image of the Holy God.  Their legacy taught you that you matter.  Your journey was, and is, something to behold.  Lift a prayer for them right now.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence.  Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by.  And that has made all the difference.”  (The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost).

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Hey Padre

“Hey, Padre!”  I hear those words and all is right with the world.  This is what my oldest son calls me.  I can’t remember when he started.  All I know is that when I hear that small phrase my pulse slows down and I remember that I am loved and everything else just doesn’t seem to be that important.  It is amazing that such a tiny group of letters has such a profound effect on my soul.

We all have certain words or sentences that remind us who we are and that we are loved beyond our own understanding.  We feel a sense of belonging and security when certain people utter names or phrases.  Whatever these words are, we are never quite the same. We smile and wrap ourselves in a warm blanket of hope and trust.

Today I am grateful for the small group of words that collectively give me hope. I realize that the journey is full of twists and turns, but the one constant is the rich meaning behind words and phrases of love that carry us onward.  Sometimes they are the only things that push us higher and faster as we move on.  And to be honest, many times all we need is the assurance that someone is right there with us, walking with us to utter the words that we need to hear.

And so, I say, “Thanks be to God!” for every word, every blessing that is uttered to give me hope.  May the words of my mouth do the same for others who need to hear holy words of hope and joy.  May the words uttered ring like bells in your ears.  When all is said and done, may it all lead to the One, who gave us life.

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Sharing My Story

Last week I presided at my uncle’s funeral in Houston.  I prepared what one should say at a graveside memorial.  I had the right litany, the right prayers, even the right words.  As I stood up and witnessed a score of aunts, uncles, cousins and longtime family friends, I realized that what I prepared was not what was needed.  I did not open my book but instead began to share how much this wonderful man meant to all of us.  His absolute joy for life and compassion were second to none.  I found myself offering a hymn of thanksgiving more than the prepared and careful words that I prepared.

One of the other blessings that came as a result of my trip was that I saw and met members of my family.  Caeleb was with me and I introduced him to people that he did not know.  I explained each person’s relationship to me and how they were related to him.  I am sure that he forgot most of the names.  The most important thing is that he discovered part of his own legacy.

My favorite part of the trip was taking my youngest son to some important places in his mom’s life and mine.  Caeleb was only six months old when we moved to New Mexico, and he did not have the history in Houston that we shared.  I wanted him to know what we meant when we referred to different places.  I took him to the church where Caz and I were married a lifetime ago.  I took him to see where his mom lived before we were married followed by several other important places.  His favorite part was seeing the Gulf of Mexico.  We just don’t have that much water in New Mexico.

There are moments when the world stops and you realize that your life is comprised of different places and events that help shape who you are.  There are people that help shape us and shared the wisdom that enlightened our paths.  To us, these amazing men and women helped direct us to sacred spaces, filled with the richness of your life.  This trip was a reminder of my journey and how grateful I was that I got to share them with my son.

And as for my Uncle George, he was a man of integrity and was compassionate beyond belief.  He was bawdy and could make you laugh at some of the most off colored statements known to man.   With him, all were welcomed, no matter who they were.  I consider myself blessed because I called him my uncle.  May we all have an Uncle George to stand beside us and remind us that who we are is enough.  Praise be to God for the amazing life of this man.

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Down by the Riverside

This summer I am preaching a series called “Down by the Riverside.”  I am moving away from the comfort of the lectionary and sharing Biblical stories that center around water. Sacred events are shared around lakes, rivers, streams, and wells.  Every experience demonstrates the power of God, and how the Spirit is revealed to humanity.  Through these holy stories, we capture brief images of the wonder of our Creator, as we are transformed and claimed in the name of our Most-High God.

Water quenches not only our physical thirst but our spiritual needs as well.  Our journey takes us to places to be refreshed and filled with the goodness of God.  We are made whole by drinking from the living fountain of Divine redemption.  All we have to do is allow ourselves to stop and drink this healing water.

I must admit, that continuing to stop at the right watering whole is not an easy thing to do sometimes.  I sometimes get carried away and forget about the one place that offers me restoration.  My hope is to surrender my worries and concerns and allow the One, who brings me peace, to also sustain me.  Some days are easier than others.

So, the challenge that I have as I travel “Down by the Riverside” is to surrender my soul to God and be assured that all of the rest will be taken care of.  And when I come to the living waters, I remember whose I am.  This comforts me and gives me rest beyond my imagination.  Praise be to God, who leads us beside quiet waters and restores our soul.

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The One Who Defined Me

One fall day in 1995, I received a phone call from my wife.  She told me that “Julian had something to tell me.  He was coming soon.”  I stared at the phone as if she had lost her mind.  I asked her to clarify what she meant.  Her next sentence literally changed my life forever.  She said, “Julian is coming.  I’m pregnant!”

I stood there absolutely speechless.  Was she kidding?  Dear Lord, me a father?   God help the child.  She interrupted my feelings of anxiety as we laughed together and decided that we would celebrate by going to a special restaurant.  We raised a toast, non-alcoholic of course, to the journey that was to come.

That day marked the first day that I knew my boy was coming into the world.  We talked about naming our son Julian Lance (names of both of our grandfathers), but I never thought much about the name until that day.  Since that time, there has not been one day that I don’t speak his name and give thanks to God for my mighty son’s life.  He is an amazing man.

On Friday, he will celebrate his 21st birthday.  In dad years, I have been called a father for well over 21 years.  Julian changed me.  No one ever called me a parent before he came into being, and no one will ever not call me a parent ever again.  For that, I am truly grateful.

We all have events that occur in life that shape us and define the course that we will take.  For me, becoming a father was that life changing event.  I learned how to feel deeper, grow stronger, and love more passionately than I ever imagined.  Children bring us that gift.

Today I praise God for my son, Julian Lance MacDonald, who continues to amaze me every day.  I hope to continue singing with him for the rest of my life.  And while I am at it, I give thanks for my incredible wife, Cazandra Cecelia Campos-MacDonald, who took a risk and agreed to be my wife.  Together we have formed a family that is capable of amazing things.  Thanks be to God for all of His generous gifts.

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A Curve Ball

My youngest son left for camp on Monday.  We felt victorious this year.  He actually got on the bus to go!  Last year he couldn’t attend because of a freak ice skating accident.  While he was with me on the ice, he fell and broke his arm.  That ended his foray into the exciting world of hemophilia camp; at least for 2016.

This year promised to be different.  We didn’t dare get on the ice for a solid month before camp.  Nothing would stop him from finally going and being part of a fantastic community.  He was pumped up and ready to get on the bus with friends that he plays with every time there is a function for the bleeding disorder community.  For a week these amazing folks planned to play and learn how to manage their care.  No parents were allowed, but we all knew that they were safe and carefully guarded by a wonderful treatment team.

And then we got the call, the one you really don’t want to receive when your kid is away at camp.  My boy climbed up a ladder to take a ride on a “zip” line.  He looked down and immediately had second thoughts.  He turned to go back down the stairs, this adventure could wait for another day.  While he was climbing down in search of another road to travel, he lost his balance and fell down ten steps leading up to the “zip” line.  Praise God, and I truly mean praise God, that our treatment team attends the camp.  They were with him and constantly monitored his progress.

Meanwhile, back in Rio Rancho, my schedule was full.  I had several hospital visits planned, followed by some much needed time in my office to write my sermon for Sunday.  I looked forward to sitting down and getting some tasks accomplished.  Then the phone rings.  It is our wonderful hematologist, calling from camp to let us know about the accident.  Dr. Abraham reviewed the medical plan with us and we informed her that we would be there as soon as possible.  The medical facility nearest the camp was about a 3 1/2 hour drive from our home.

The day dramatically changed as planning and visits gave way to turning my attention to the needs of my family.  My wife and I were anxious to see for ourselves the extent of my son’s injuries.  We learned that he broke two bones in his left arm as a result of the fall and there were a few bruises on his face.  We talked with the doctors at the regional clinic along with Dr. Abraham and took my son home.  Camp could wait for another year.  For now, our mission was to love on our son and help him heal both physically and emotionally.

This entire event served as a reminder to me that life can change on a dime, and when push comes to shove priorities must take over the best-laid plans.  My focus changed from accomplishing tasks to helping heal hearts.  My son needed to know that accidents happen and that the earth still rotates around the sun.  He is loved beyond anything that he could ever imagine and that the one thing upon which he can always depend is the undying love of his mom and dad.

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