Embrace Your Experiences

Today I was going about my business simply taking some time to rest from a very hectic week. Suddenly a thought occurred to me, “This time last week you were getting ready to go see Les Miserables in New York. I smiled remembering that evening as very special. In some ways last week occurred light years ago. Was I really in New York? Man this week has flown by.

I think about those times in my life where everything seems to stand still and the moments that I remember become incredibly sacred and rich. These are the times that give us the strength and courage that we need to move forward when life does not appear to seem breath taking nor affirming. We gather strength from the past to move through the present. We even look towards the future with hope, knowing that we will again experience those “Les Miz” moments in our lives.

This week I have enjoyed calling to mind the incredible events in New York. I loved going to the Natural History Museum, 9/11 Memorial, Broadway shows, incredible restaurants, and the sights and sounds of being in “The City”. I am grateful that the memories of all of those places will help me in times of need or loneliness. When I am sad I will remember the absolute joy in my son’s eyes as he sang on the stage of the Ambassador Theater. I will be filled with incredible pride as I remember his eyes while he was singing; totally captivated in the moment that he knew that his dreams where in reach. I am talking about the “Aha” moment when we realize what we are supposed to do with our lives.

I hope that we all recall moments in our lives that leaves us breathless. I hope that those times are sources of strength and confidence as we journey on. Perhaps Jesus himself knew that we would need something directly from heaven and so, in God’s incredible wisdom and love for us, gave us the gifts of bread and wine. That when we share them in community with one another we may recall the divine present that was given to us. We may remember how important and special that we are to the Holy One. These gifts may sustain us through all of our times. And through the endowments of New York, bread, wine, sacrifice, etc…I may say, “Thanks be to God.”

What is Normal?

I am sitting beside my youngest son.  As I write this he is fiercely doing battle with a dragon; sword in hand.  Yes, it is a video game.  I look at the clock with a complete awareness that he should be in school in about 8 minutes.  All is normal.  He and I sitting beside one another.  Him giving me expert lessons on the latest video game.  He is waiting in the Children’s Specialty Infusion Unit at the University of New Mexico Hospital.  He will have his usual dosage of Xolair to combat an allergic reaction to the clotting agent that he must take to ensure little if any break through bleeding into the joints.

That’s right.  That is my normal.  It may not sound like anything you may do in your routine, but it is what I know.  I smile when I hear that dirty “n” (normal) word thrown around, because I believe that it is all relative to our own unique situations.  What you may consider ordinary may stress me out.  Likewise, what I consider an average part of my day may lead others into a frenzied state.

Our journeys are all unique.  How we interpret and experience life is based on our own stories and paths.  We must be sensitive to each other’s stories.  What may lead one person down one road may frighten another person.  We make choices based on the information that we have in the moment.  We may look back later and realize that our lives may have been a little less “complicated” had we chosen another path.

As for my son, he views these visits to the hospital (along with daily infusions) as a part of his life.  This is his normal.  He as no other frame of reference to the contrary.  This is what it means to be human for him.  It may not be for anyone else.  We should respect each other’s paths.  Whatever that path may be.

Today, I give thanks for what I call “normal.”  It means that life has been restored back to routine, and in that routine we experience life in its traditional form; whatever traditional means to us.  Our path is life giving and life sustaining.  It allows us to recognize the times when life is not “normal,” but that is another blog post for another time.

May you live into your “normal” and celebrate it, for it is in the richness of tradition that you may be able to gather strength for those times when life is not so predictable and ordinary.  

Moving Past Zebra

I was talking to a friend of mine who is a kindergarten teacher.  She was telling me about a bold statement that one of her children said in class the other day.  My friend was reading the Dr. Seuss story “On Beyond Zebra.”  The children loved the story and suggested to her that the only way to move past the Zebra is to move closer to the Zebra.

What a brilliant statement to make.  Of course it came from a five year old child.  These little ones can provide wonderful insights into learning and how we must stretch beyond our own understanding to discover another person’s struggles.  This is where we began to experience empathy and all of the other things that minimalize our differences long enough to understanding and embrace each other’s journeys.

How willing are you to move closer to the edge of what you know?  I am talking about coming face to face with your “Zebra.”  Some of us are so afraid to travel to those jumping off places that we stay right where we are; safe and comfortable.  Never reaching out.  Never risking the chance to grow.

Maybe this season of Lent is about finding those places that lie on the edge of our own understanding.  Once we discover the edges, parameters, and yes zebras, we might realize that faith lies beyond it all.  Perhaps faith will be the bridge into another place within our soul that longs for discovery.  We will set sail to discover a new world that contains the riches of greater wisdom and deeper understanding.

So, today I am reminded that once again I gather insight from little children.  I am challenged to move past what I assume and into a faith that bridges hearts and leads to openness and understanding.  My journey will lead me into new adventures and amazing discoveries.  It all starts with moving beyond what is safe and embracing the love of the One who guides me on my voyage.

Breaking Down Elements

Today I had the opportunity to speak with a crazy talented group of people about Motivational Interviewing.  I utilize this counseling tool in just about every facet of my life.  I am constantly drawn back to the primary purpose of initiating change by letting people be the author of their own story.  To me there is a great camaraderie and authenticity in empowering a person to initiate change in their lives.

As I prepared for today’s meeting, I reviewed my notes from the classes that I took at the Iliff School of Theology.  It took me back to a time for which I am very grateful.  I remembered teachers and fellow students that made a large impact on my life.  I gave great joy for the many lessons that I learned while I attended school.

It was also great to be in front of a group of people teaching the basics of how to engage people where they are and in the middle of where they are.  I enjoyed sharing this very special part of what I do with a group that was eager to learn and grow.  I basically just had to show up and serve as a moderator.  The participants took care of the rest.

I am so grateful that I have the memories of Iliff to recall times of struggle and learning.  I love the wisdom that I gleaned from amazing people anxious to tell their stories.  There is something that is awesome when we gather together and learn from each other.  I can’t explain the energy; it is simply overpowering.  We utilize our own narratives to illuminate one another on our strength and hope.  May we continue to grow as we journey forward.

Getting Back to “Normal”

Today I am exhausted.  Traveling across the country is pretty taxing.  I am trying to get back into the swing of things.  While I may be sitting in my office, my feet have not touched the ground.  Our visit to New York was more than I had hoped for, and then some.  I still can’t believe that my son sang on a Broadway stage.  That seems completely surreal.

It is nice to get away from routine once in a while.  We are invited to take new adventures and to share different experiences.  Respite gives us a brand new perspective on reality.  We come back anxious to write a new chapter in our lives.  We seek to engage opportunities in a refreshing way that adds strength and radiance to “normal” routine.

Perhaps our Lenten disciplines are a much needed break from our traditional responses to God.  Our giving up (or adding to) of something gives us space to reflect on the presence of the divine in our lives in ways that we don’t normally reflect on God’s light.  The notion of changing our daily devotional practices challenges us to look deeper at our spiritual center.  I am talking about the very core of who we are.

My Lenten practice of writing on a daily basis is constantly calling me to surrender to the notion of not being good enough.  That is one of the fears that I brought into this whole process.  The notion that what I have to say does not matter at all.  I am not worthy to even describe who and what my holy calling is.  My language is not strong enough to illicit spiritual change or commitment.  These are my fears that plague my thoughts every time I sit down to write a post.

Here the Gospel (Good News) Joe MacDonald.  God loves all of you.  That even includes those places that you may deem unworthy.  To judge what is acceptable and what is not is to declare yourself God.  Who are you to play the role of the Holy One?  There is no understudy required.  God will show up for every performance.

Okay, I just went from preaching to meddling.  The truth is, God did not call us to worship only when everything is lined up nice and neat and perfect.  God wants us now.  Where we are and in the middle of all of our stuff.  We do not need to be perfect.  We need to be seeking wholeness.

So, my prayer for today is that as we try to get back into routine, I pray that we will give God all of ourselves and not just simply the best.  Our surrender is our total commitment.  May we remember and embrace that truth.  God wants no more than all of us.  He will judge our worth.  We are simply meant to serve.

And Let Us Not Forget the Memorial

I am writing this about 36,000 feet in the air.  We are on our way back home and I have been thinking about the last 72 hours.  One of the many things that we did while we were in Manhattan was to visit the 9/11 Memorial.  It was overwhelming to walk through and re-live the tragedy of that day in September, 2001.  As we entered a part of the Memorial we heard voices overlapping one another calling to mind where they were when the planes hit the towers.  It took me back to that day when I was teaching at Cy-Falls.  One of the band directors came through the choir room and told us that a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  I dismissed it as an error by a pilot and hoped there was not too much damage.  When we discovered the second plane crash, we knew that something was dreadfully wrong.

We were far removed from the physical space of the damage of that day.  We were in Houston, but felt that we were connected by our own sense of vulnerability and loss.  How could we ever make sense of something like this?  Why would someone knowingly cause this?

As I remembered the events of that day and continued walking through the Memorial, I wondered what the stories were of the people who lost their lives on the planes, in the buildings, in the field, and at the Pentagon.  As I wondered about their stories, I came to a place that had all of their faces on the wall.  On several computers you can pull up their names and hear their stories from their loved ones.  You are invited to see pictures of them and their lives.  All of the sudden these was more than just pictures on a wall.

Perhaps, to me, the most powerful space in the entire exhibit was a large room with benches on the sides and in the middle.  Their were two large projection screens in the room.  The narrator said the name of a person who was lost that day.  Then the stories that we could see on the computers were projected and shared in this large space.  I felt compelled to sit there and pray for each name that I heard and each picture that I saw.  While I could not stay and listen to the 3,000+ stories that were shared, I gave thanks for knowing these amazing people a little better.

The gift of remembering life is one of the greatest treasures that we share as a people.  We hold loved ones close in the stories that we call to mind, the children that we raise, the life lessons we learned.  These are the things that keep us moving forward.  We long to be better people because of the lives that went before us.

Today I am grateful that I can remember the remarkable people that went before me in this life.  As I left the Memorial, I hold their memories a little tighter, share their stories with more joy, and give thanks that I am who I am today because of their presence in my life.  I am their legacies.   

An Incredible Evening

Tonight was one of those evenings that you wish never had to end.  The family and I were taken in a chauffeured limousine to the Ambassador Theater in NYC to watch the musical Chicago.  We were taken on a very quick backstage tour before the performance and my son did a sound check with the musical director.  He was a part of the Make a Wish Foundation.  His wish was granted immediately after the show as he stood on the stage and sang a song for the cast.

Before the show we met the stage manager.  He was very kind and gave us a quick tour of the theater.  We couldn’t believe that the leads in the cast took the time right before the show to great us.  We had the opportunity to meet Jennifer Nettles, Carly Hughes, and several other cast members.  They were all incredibly gracious and very generous.

When it came time for Julian to sing, after the show, many of the cast members stayed to hear him sing.  Unknown to us, Carly Hughes sent a text to the composer who created the song Julian sang (Someone to Fall Back On, by Jason Robert Brown).  The composer of the song sent his apologies for not being present but sent his well wishes to my son (Did I mention on a Broadway stage?).  Mr. MacDonald did a wonderful job and I was taken back at his demeanor and willingness to follow through and not let nerves stand in his way.  After he finished singing the cast was supportive and wonderful.

I will say that my spirit was right there with him as he sang every note.  He was fulfilling a long time dream by standing on a Broadway stage and singing.  How incredible that few minutes were as he stood stage center, microphone in hand, and a spot light shining on him for good measure.  He was awesome as he simply stood there and sang.  What a moment!

My hope is that he may remember this moment and know that dreams are possible.  When we are bombarded by the busy-ness of life may we have moments to give us hope for the future.  We will face today with the hope that another moment might be around the corner.  After all, what is life without looking forward to the hope for tomorrow?  That is where our faith lies; the realization that hope will reign supreme in our lives.  May we all have “Broadway” moments in our lives to sustain us, comfort us, and give us a reason for the journey.  

An Oldie and a Goodie

Tonight my son and I went to see the musical “Les Miserables.”  It was wonderful to see and hear the music making while visiting New York.  To say the show is amazing is an understatement.  The man playing the role of Valjean, Ramin Karimloo, was breath-takingly wonderful.  When he sang “Bring Him Home” I thought I was going to die.  His singing was effortless and easy.

One of my favorite moments in the show occurs at the very end, when several of the lead characters sing the line, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”  What an incredible statement.  The act of loving is much stronger than just a feel good emotion.  Our culture thrives on love being reduced to just an emotion.  Don’t believe me?  Watch a little reality television and I think you will get my point.

I immediately think of the writings of St. Paul when describing this thing we call love.  According to the biblical text, “Love never fails” (I Cor. 13:8 NIV).  This complete kind of active love puts us within the immediate presence of God.  In this holy space, we are transformed into the very person that we are created to be.  It is life altering and life giving.  This is what it means to love in a way that glorifies God.

I had the opportunity to share a little time with my son.  I believe in many ways this kind of great love was present as we witnessed an incredible performance by an amazing cast.  The love about which I am talking showed its form as we took some time to share our passion for the theater and to connect with each other in a way that is reserve for our unique relationship; the roles of father and son.

Tonight I am grateful to have moments that remind me of what it means to love in a way that is life giving.  Thanks be to God for our lives and the joys that come our way.  This is what sustains us.  This is what nurtures us.

A Brand New Favorite

Tonight my wife, my oldest son, and I went to see the musical If/Then. To say it was incredibly amazing is an understatement. Very rarely does a musical delve as deeply into the human situation as this show did. I left with a deeper appreciation of the decisions that I made in my life and very grateful for the life that I live.

The plot of the story centers around a character that makes a decision in one moment in the park. The one decision she makes affects her story line and the audience actually witnesses one of the many paths that her life could have taken had she made the “other” choice. Sounds complicated? It was and it was wonderful.

So, I kept thinking of several pivotal moments where a decision that I made changed or altered the course of my life. I think back on making the decision to pursue my academic career versus a career in the performing arts. What a difference a choice would have made. My life would most likely be completely different than what I know today.

I look back on the choice that I made to commit to Cazandra in that small little apartment on Beechnut in Houston. How different the path would have been had I not followed my heart. Thank God I listened, because I could not have imagined loving someone more fiercely or passionately as my wife. It is because of her that I have my children and have listened (with her patience and support) to God’s call on my life. Everything I have and am is based on this one little dinner at one little apartment. What if her room mate would have answered the call and come over to eat with me? It is crazy to think that one little choice could have such amazing consequences.

While I often wonder “What if?” I always come back to “Thank God for now!” When times get tough one of my first things to do is map or attempt to re-chart my life and wonder how I might recover the “other.” While that is fun and all the truth is that I would not want the “other” if I had to give up the “now.” I am grateful for what my life has become and do not regret that it never became something else.

My hope is that we all look on our lives and say, “Thanks be to God!” and not, “Woe be to God!” Let us be grateful for now; where we are, and whose we are. We are not a people created to live in regret. We are meant to give thanks for the now and look forward to what is to come.

We Are Here!

Today I thank God for a very uneventful plane ride to New York City. I realized very quickly that, while I enjoy visiting Manhattan, my heart is really in New Mexico. I need the big open spaces that New York does not seem to offer. Everything seems to be piled on top of everything else.

Despite all of the spacial issues, we are having a good time. It is great to take a few moments with the family and just breathe. Our mission is to use this trip to relax and reconnect with each other. With that said, there are shows to see, museums to visit, and food to eat.

Tonight we ate at an Italian restaurant right across the street from our hotel. It is called Mercatos and the food was delicious. The dining area was very small and we could not help but feel a little claustrophobic. All around us there were people dining and the cacophony of noise was sometimes overwhelming. As I overheard bits and pieces of conversations, I kept wondering, “How does God speak into a sea of people that seem to move forward in their lives without giving the Divine a second glance?  Would anyone in this place hear God if they were called?”

While the meal was absolutely delicious, I was left to wonder when in the chaos of my own life did I stop to listen for God’s call? What led me to respond? I gave thanks over dinner for my own story of faith. I gave thanks for the many people who, despite all of the noise around them, responded to God’s call.

christopherjoiner

Some Thoughts Along the Way

Cazandra Campos-MacDonald

We take our journey with love and hope.

Perseverance Runner

Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

strugglewell

That marriages in crisis will find Biblical solutions and reconciliation

jefflust

Reflections on leadership and what it means to be the church God intends for the 21st century.