I am grateful for my time in Austin. While attending Austin Presbyterian Seminary, I was able to walk the campus of the University of Texas. Ah yes, that beautiful campus with the tower. As I walked down the stairs of the main building, I was taken back to my eighteen-year-old self who was enrolled as a freshman. I thought of the many mistakes that I made that would drastically alter the course of my life. Some of my choices left long lasting marks of shame and regret. I kept asking myself the age old question, “What happened to that kid? Why those choices?”
What a frustrating place in which I found myself. No matter what resolution I could find, it would not replace the opportunities that no longer existed. And then that horrid feeling of being stuck in my inability to fully resolve the issue kicked in. What a mess. I knew that in order to move forward I would have to let go of my insane thinking. You know, the kind of thinking that allows you, in all of your folly to think that you are capable of changing the past.
All of these thoughts seemed to illuminate from my soul as I looked at the past with eyes in the present. I began to talk to that 18-year-old boy. I gave him permission to be himself, that he was more than the scars of his childhood. I assured him that he would move past the effects of the battle wounds that he inherited, and that he would thrive past his wildest dreams. He was, and his more than the sum of his failures.
So, after dipping my foot into the healing waters of forgiveness, I turned and headed back to the seminary. It was time to leave the past behind, and continue forward. I gave thanks for being able to shine a light on the realization that, while I falter, there is always the promise of a new day. If my heart learned anything, it was a sense of forgiveness of myself, along with the need to keep moving in a direction that guides me to the eternal light of God.
Praise be to our wonderful Creator, who never allows us to remain in the past. And blessed are we, as we remember that we are all created in the image of God. That includes who we were, what we are, and what we will be. May we carry that promise into a future filled with the riches of our amazing Savior.
Here we are in a new year. Many of us set new goals, with new expectations in both our personal and professional lives. Yes, we are given a chance to start over. We are encouraged to change our way of thinking, our way of managing our lives, our way of approaching problems that have appeared to have no answer. These are all the hopes and wishes in which we invest as we move forward into 2016.
The problem, however, is that we still bring our baggage along with us. Many of us, I am pointing the finger back at myself, truly don’t live as if we have a new beginning. A new start will include some failures, but will never give up until we achieve our goals. What holds us back are the ways that we cling to the past. We give up on our resolutions, only to fall back into the very familiar patterns of behavior that we promised to leave behind. We fail to hold on to the assumption that our fresh start is indeed that, a fresh start.
I could really move from preaching to meddling with the following question: “How does this mirror your faith journey?” I mean, we start off with incredible energy. We proclaim to the world that we were not the people that we were before. We keep this enthusiasm of new life, only to see it fade as we surrender to the pressures and demands of our places in the world. We continue to drift away, until we wonder where and who we are.
Hear the Good News! We are a people who have a chance to begin anew every waking day of our lives. We do not need to wait for something like a new year to initiate change. Each day for us is a gift, given by the one who encourages you to embrace your life with the passion with which you started the journey. This is the promise that we are given with each passing moment. Praise be to God, who gives us the strength to overcome our weaknesses. May your “New Year” begin today, and may you know the blessings of God, beyond your wildest imaginations.
Recently I was visiting with a wonderful man who served in the military during World War II. He told me some amazing stories of love, sadness and deliverance. I finished my conversation with him expressing a feeling of gratitude for the memories that he clings to reminding him of his life and purpose. He maintains a spirit of joy even at the ripe old age of 95 years old.
Even though I am not his age, I do understand a little something about memories. I made a commitment this year to write everyday for a year. At the end of the year I want to look at my writing and see if there are any themes that seem to pop up over and over again. My goal is to find common ground with Scripture and my own story. I want to answer the ultimate life question, “Where has God been present in your life?”
It just so happens that I stumbled upon a small cassette tape that I recorded back in 1994. I had turned 30 years old and wanted to give my mother a gift of memories. I wanted to thank her for giving me a loving family and share with her the not so subtle of ways of teaching me life lessons on forgiveness and healing. Some of the stories that I recorded where not easy memories; however, they were necessary reflections to my growth as a human being.
Listening to these stories 19 years later has brought me a new appreciation for my family and the path that I had to journey on to get to where I am now. As I listened to my younger voice, I celebrated the lives of those who are no longer with me but were a very important part of shaping my life. I listened to my own process of forgiveness and healing as told in my own words. There was something incredibly liberating to hear a recounting of the many stories that gave me a sense of identity. I appreciated the lessons that were handed to me as I struggled to find my own sense of worth.
I recently preached a sermon on God’s presence in the middle of darkness. I told of God’s faithfulness and existence in the blackest of times. This tape reminded me of a time that I came out of the fog and into the light of God. As my World War II buddy said, “Memories are powerful and important.”
We hold tight to our past as a reminder of a time when God led us to be free of the pain that we carried. Our faith keeps us safe and our memories serve to remind us of our journey. The Israelites would never have gone back into slavery, but every year there is a celebration known as the Passover Seder to commemorate what God did in the lives of the faithful. As he did for those in physical bondage, The Holy One of Israel led us out of bondage. Theirs was a physical servitude while ours was a spiritual captivity. There is not a year that goes by that we remember that from which we have been delivered, the one who delivered us (God), and the absolute joy we have as those who have been redeemed. We preserve and celebrate our memories. They have shaped us well.
“The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and He brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut. 26:8-9 NRSV).
There are times in our lives in which the promises of the above passage are as real to us as air. We catch a glimpse of God’s handiwork in our lives and feel like we stand right in the middle of the “land flowing with milk and honey.” We feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as a real and powerful source of our strength and hope. The planets seem to be aligned and all is well in our world. To sum it all up; life is good!
Then there are times when God’s presence seems so far away that we will never get back to the warmth of the heavenly light. We struggle to stand up as the wind races through our lives and chills us to the bone deliberately ridding us of our joy. We are hopeless. The last place that we feel like we are is in a “land of milk and honey.”
Our hope as we struggle is that God’s promises are true and that our faith in His abiding love will pull us from the pit of despair. I know what it is like to feel separated from God’s presence. My youngest son was just recently in the hospital. One day I was sitting with him in his hospital room and I tried to think through how many times he had been hospitalized in the last three months. I couldn’t remember. There had been too many times to count. I lost track. It is bad enough that my sons have bleeding disorders, but the constant hospitalizations are overwhelming. It is hard to feel like I am in the “land of milk and honey” when I am sleeping on a tiny mattress in a hospital room.
When I am stressed beyond all measure I reach for something that will sustain me and give me hope. That is when I discover God’s presence. I read that God delivered us out of the land of Egypt where we were slaves and had no place in society. God radically saved us. This is where the center of my hope springs out like a fountain. If God saved the people of Israel from the weight of slavery, I will be rescued from my situation. The “land of milk and honey” may not look as pretty, but on the inside where it really counts I will know the goodness of God. This promised land’s source is the Spirit of God. Divine love pours out of us and through our world restoring life to all that it touches. We are to be the wellspring by which the Heavenly One flows.