If only life were as simple as the title of this post suggests. We all start with a blank slate and write our own story. The truth is, our slates are colored by others in ways that are sometimes affirming and sometimes harmful. When we finally become aware that we have any agency what so ever in our narrative, we are the result of many people who have etched on our souls ways and processes by which we respond to the world. Our stories are not our own.
As we get older we begin to assume responsibility for our actions and take over the role of artist and creator in our lives. While we may not be able to erase those parts of our slate that have wounded us, we can paint broad strokes over those unhealthy places and reclaim those parts for ourselves. Many of us don’t realize until much later that we are capable of framing the portraits of our lives. We allow others to continue to wield power over places that should be ours. Our freedom is found in reclaiming our own voice.
“Now wait just a minute,” you say. “Isn’t God the author of our stories? The one who paints on this blank slate?” Well, yes, but we must claim and share our part in the process. God is the one who holds our hand steady as we paint. The vision of what we shall put on the canvas is created by God. We must be still and capture the picture that will become the painting. It is up to us to get the work done. To assume that we have no part in the creation of the work is to diminish our role in the process of being human.
I hope that we continue to pray to the one who guides our hands and create the work of the master of all works. May our painting reflect the incredible love of our amazing God. While the slate is not blank, it can capture the brilliance of the creator of life. We embrace our divine inspiration with the hope that our work will reflect the love of the Holy One.
I am currently reading a book titled Love and Hate: The Story of Henri Landwirth. Henri was a holocaust survivor. His journey takes him through the atrocities of the death camps in Germany, his struggles to survive in a world torn apart by war, and his ability to carry on with his life. We share in his moment of transformation, when he realizes in postwar Paris that he wanted more for his life than to live with continued hostility. He discovers that in order to live a life filled with meaning and purpose he had to surrender his anger and bitterness. Henri concluded that if he were to continue down a path of hate the Nazis would win. He was determined not to give them the victory.
The power of transformation occurs in our lives when we discover the desire to be made complete. Our lives must be more than the events of our past. We have no control over people or situations that occur before the present moment. What we can manage is now. How often do we let the events of the past control us and leave us feeling like victims; without power, without joy, without hope?
In order to change our situations, we must allow God to transform our hearts. The power of the Holy Spirit is an amazing thing. It’s brilliant fire fills us with a sense of renewed passion. Where once there was no hope, now there are is meaning and wholeness. Through our surrender to God’s love our rebirth sparks within us the joy of creation.
As we journey through this Lenten season let us call to mind how God has changed us. Let us reclaim the brilliant handiwork of the Divine in our lives. We renounce hate and bitterness only to embrace joy and love. This healing power alters the course of our lives and gives us a gift beyond our own understanding. We are transformed. We are made whole.
Sometimes the notion of faith is misconstrued to mean that we should always walk around with a smile on our faces and just be so filled with God’s love that our paths are easy and carefree. If we are not happy, we are not faithful. Our struggles in faith are minimalized to a type of brainwashing in that we have to convince ourselves that we believe in God enough to get us through our times of trials. This is a very dangerous theology, because it suggests that God’s work in our lives is dependent on the depth of our faith. I don’t recall Jesus painting a picture of a happy carefree life as we skip through an endless field of daisies. Life is messy and we often equate God’s presence in our lives to how hard we work to discover the Divine reality.
While it is wonderful and amazing that we made the choice to accept God’s grace and love in our lives, it does not mean that the Holy Spirit waited to move within us at the moment of our belief. In fact, the creator of the universe has been working miracles in our lives long before we ever made a choice to accept the presence of God as a real and functioning part of who we are. God’s mercy is not dependent on our actions. This divine gift was given long before we ever discovered the Holy One.
I don’t know about you, but I want a God that will restore me and make me whole. That means I may still struggle with life, but I will do so with the awareness that God is present with me. I may continue to get angry, I may doubt, and I may even make some bad choices. The difference is that I will always return back to the one who gives me strength. I will acknowledge my imperfections by allowing that which is perfect to dwell within me. I will claim my truth; warts and all. My wholeness is found in returning to the One who has called me into relationship. Yes I still have times where I wonder who is on my side, but I always come back to my source of strength. The journey back to center is what it means to be whole.
Today my church participated in something very scandalous. We held a celebration of music right in the middle of the Lenten season. I was concerned that we demonstrated too much joy in the middle of a time in the church year that is considered contemplative and introspective. Where we showing the appropriate sense of reverence? Did we cross the line?
The answers to my questions seemed to appear right before my eyes. I started listening to the amazing texts of the songs that led to amazing revelations in how and why we practice our faith. What amazing teachers of our worship. There is a sense of joy and good news regarding why we do what we do. The musical texts proclaim that in Christ there is freedom, there is expression, and there is hope.
I seem to hear the answer to my question in the form of a question. “Why not serve the Lord in joy?” “Who am I to determine when to be contemplative or when to be joyful?” These songs make a bold statement. They reflect the idea that even during our deepest moments of searching for our faith, we can still give thanks with joy and gratitude.
Lent does not diminish our joy. It accentuates it. It highlights that God still moves in our lives throughout the deepest and darkest of times. Through it all, and I mean all, it is okay to express our joy. Nothing, not even a season, can diminish the light that is within us. To not be able to share our strength and our hope is to deny our wholeness. We lose our authenticity.
Let us remember to share our reasons for giving thanks throughout this time of Lent. May our worship lead to bolder expressions of our faith. Throughout all seasons of the church calendar we should remember the greatness of God and the gift of life that we are given. I hope that we embrace the truth that lives within us every moment of every day.
Today is Saturday and the church is busy with activities. We perform a Living Last Supper and rehearsals where held this morning. Immediately following that rehearsal there was a choir rehearsal for a special music Sunday tomorrow. Many of us attended both of the events. Despite the long hours, there is a feeling of absolute joy and excitement as we journey through Lent and into Easter.
Saturdays are usually my day of Sabbath, so when I have an appointment on my day off I feel a little anxious. With singing and participating in a dramatic skit, I feel like I am feeding a very important part of my spirit. It transforms from a commitment to an absolute joy. After all, it is stage work at its very finest. It reminds me of my first love, the arts.
It is my hope that our Sabbaths are filled with those things that renew our passions for what we are called to do. We may find a renewed spark in life and take time to feed the most intimate parts of who we are. We can worship, giving thanks to God for igniting the passions that give us a sense of hope and purpose. The inspiration of divine love will fill us with joy.
When is your Sabbath? Is it found in a moment, an hour, a day? When do you simply stop your crazy schedule and get connected to your spiritual needs? This is our constant question and we search for those times that we may stop and hear the voice and wonder of God working in our lives. May we remember to stop and give thanks for all that is given to us. In our stopping may we remember and celebrate those things that give us reasons for being in this world.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.