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.

The Crazy Space of Transition

I am scurrying around trying to make sure that everything is done in preparation for tomorrow’s odyssey.  We leave from Albuquerque and flight through Houston, Atlanta, and then finally New York.  While I have my foot still here, I have to admit my other foot is already in Manhattan.  We are planning on having dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in the city.  It is called Ellen’s Stardust Diner.  All of the wait staff is trying to make it on Broadway.  While eating dinner it is not uncommon for a waiter or waitress to pop out a show tune in the middle of the chaos of a diner in Times Square.

I know that my transition from real life to a vacation is small compared to moving or starting a new job.  I have done those things and it is not easy.  I remember finding myself wanting to balance both places, only to surrender to the demands that stood before me.  I had to move into one world by letting go of the other.  Perhaps in transitioning there is an element of grief that occurs.

I move from looking forward to a vacation to remembering what my life was like almost nine years ago when I transitioned from being a teacher in Houston to doing full time church work in a small town in New Mexico.  I think the biggest thing that surprised me was the need to mourn the loss of my former career.  While I was excited about moving forward in my call to ministry, I also was sad as I said goodbye to my students and friends.  For the first full year I was in New Mexico I looked at the calendar and thought to myself, “Oh.  It’s time for Region Choir,” or, “Wow it’s time for the Texas Music Educators Conference.”  It was a hard year readjusting to life in a new place and a new mission.

I never imagined that my journey would take me through nine years of exciting and incredible ministry in New Mexico.  I look forward to many more adventures, but I will never forget the different ways I had to navigate the waters as life gave way to different places and opportunities.  Today I give thanks for my journey and the many lessons that I have learned as I walk down my unique path.  Through it all, I will never stop giving thanks for the many people that I have encountered along the way.

A Different Kind of Monday

Monday is the strangest day of the week for me.  I kind of suffer a little let down after building up to wonderful services on Sunday.  I usually begin the ritual of closing the chapter of one celebration to look forward to another, but this week is a little different.  My family is going on a small vacation.  We are going to New York.

In addition to seeing a few shows, all focus will be on my oldest son.  On behalf of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, he will sing immediately after the musical Chicago on the stage.  That’s right, my son is making his Broadway debut!  We are absolutely thrilled to share this moment together.

Someone asked me if I would get up on the stage with him and I responded, “No.  This is my son’s night.  All focus needs to be on him and his love of music.”  While it will be difficult not to get up on the stage and join in, this is not my moment.  It is his and we will respect that and honor that.  I have heard him practicing, and I must say that he sounds wonderful.

I have known my son’s whole life that he is a musician.  His love of singing is an incredible art unto itself.  My wife recently posted a blog answering the question, “If you could only speak about the most important 30 seconds of your life, what would you say?”  Her response was the moment my oldest son was born and they placed him on her chest.  She knew in that moment that he had transformed her life and that love itself had a completely new definition in her eyes.

My answer to the question would be in the same room.  After I cut my son’s umbilical cord I held him and walked him over to the warming table in the room.  As I was walking he was screaming in my arms.  I began to sing to him a song that sang just about every night that he was in the womb.  He stopped crying, looked around, and in that moment I knew that music was to be an important part of his life.  We would share the most incredible love that I have ever known.  The gift of music.  I have enjoyed the melodic journey ever since.

So, this week my entries will be filled with moments in the “City” and great times with family.  I have already said that no matter how cold it gets, we will not let it spoil our fun.  We are prepared to be hard core travelers.  Thanks be to God for the times when we can take a moment to share together the joys and passions that direct our lives.

We Know What We Know

First of all, I have to say that I am a very grateful pastor as I have learned how loving and caring my congregation truly is.  We have been inundated by prayers, food, and words of hope and inspiration to carry us through what continues to be our longest hospital stay to date.  Caeleb will be in the hospital for a full month on Monday.  Within the month, we have been discharged twice only to return to the hospital the next day with complications from a knee bleed that will not stop.  Specialists can’t even stop the bleeding.  They try and try, but without much success.

I must admit that this journey has been very difficult for many different reasons.  It is hard seeing my son in pain and not be able to stop it.  We as parents are “supposed” to fix problems.  When we get to the point that we can’t relieve his pain there is a feeling of absolute powerlessness.  Faith becomes the only option by which to express hope.

I look at faith as part of my life intertwined into the very fabric of day to day living.  I have faith that medicines will work, or I have faith that a certain treatment is the one that will restore my son’s health, or I have faith that God will show up in the middle of all of the chaos and create beauty.  I must say, I cannot separate science from my expression of the Divine.  The merging of both worlds is a rich tapestry of both faith and reason that provides a holistic approach to who I am in my finite humanity and that part of me that is connected to Spirit. Together, that which is seen and unseen fills me with the love and knowledge of something that is light years bigger than who I am in this world.

I see God’s work being done by the love and care the nurses on our unit offer to my family.  Their efforts reinforce the holistic identity of who we are by engaging the spiritual aspect of care as they utilize scientific methodology to provide answers to medical issues.  It is an incredible and necessary dependence on various ways that we can validate the existence of both science and the Divine.  The truth is, sometimes we can’t measure what we know to be true.  It is simply profound and present.

So, today I give thanks for the marriage of science and faith and how they come together to make life complete.  I am grateful for the men and women who continue to make life better for my son and seek ways that not only provide him with medical wholeness, but also feed his spirit.  I give thanks for the many people who touch our lives with material and spiritual gifts.  Your service and your compassion are amazing!

And I say, “Thanks be to God.”

Preserve Our Memories Well

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.

Seek the Lord

“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Isa. 55:6 NRSV).

The Shakespearean Tragedy “Hamlet” is an incredible search for personal acceptance and an incredible search into the human spirit to discover the inherent principles of human purpose. I believe that the Bible leads us through the same questions however; the answers to the ultimate questions lead us to God. It is in God that we find purpose and meaning. Our reason for existing is to find our way to that place within our spirit where we connect to God. God is within us, but we must find the sacred.

A question that arises out of the Isaiah text is the notion that there is a limited amount of time that God is near. How long do we have? Is there only a limited amount of time in our lives that God’s presence will be available? Perhaps the challenge is to seek God during our time on this earth. The Divine may be found as long as we live. It is with this seeking to find God that makes life exciting. Our need to connect with the Divine invites urgency to life. We are energized to find the Holy Spirit within us.

It has been my experience that when we connect with God there is a sense of finding peace. Hope is finding a Divine spark in the middle of a crisis. This is where God dwells; in the center of our struggles. We find serenity and grab hold of that sacred space. The challenge is to know how to find our way back. We must remain in touch with how to revisit that Divine source that is deep within us. We rekindle our soul by remaining close to that “Spring of Living Water” that flows through us.

The reality of life is that God will sometimes feel distant. We yearn for the time that God’s presence is vibrant and very obvious in our lives. We delight in a sense of peace and joy that guides us and inspires us. Isaiah reminds us to search immediately so that we may experience the incredible reality of God. Let us set aside time for the one who created us. We may find Him in the middle of our very existence and be transformed by His awesome presence.

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