God Restores Our Joy!

I am a pastor and a parent with two sons with bleeding disorders.  My youngest son has a high titer inhibitor which makes our lives a little more complicated.  To give you some indication as to how rare our situation is hemophilia effects 1 in 5,000 male births.  Of the 1 in 5,000 male births, 5% of those with hemophilia have the special type of inhibitor with which my son struggles.  We are hospitalized quite frequently often for multiple days and sometimes multiple weeks on end.

As a pastor, there are times when the medical needs of my children must be balanced by the spiritual needs of my congregation.  Life at times can be a fine balancing act as I fill the roles of pastor, caregiver, friend, father and husband (just to name a few).  I am moved to fulfill all of my roles to the best of my abilities.  There are times when my life is turned upside down.  I must hold down the fort and manage through the storms of my life and those entrusted into my care.

I deal with all of these various positions while continuing to ponder my own understanding of how in the world God’s beauty can be manifested through the most horrible of life’s moments.  My youngest son recently reached a milestone in his treatment that would take us to the next level.  Unfortunately, he had an allergic reaction to the medication that we were so desperately hoping he would start taking.  The bad news is that we would not be able to take a step forward in his treatment.  The good news is that we didn’t take a step backward.

While I was grieving the fact that we would not begin a new part of our journey, people spoke words of comfort to me.  I appreciated all of those who thought enough of me and my family to remind me that God is found in community.  This is where the beauty of God was found in my situation.  When I thought all was lost and sought refuge, I found it in the words of hope expressed through the many men and women of faith who encouraged me to continue on in my journey.  I was given the strength to continue to cling to hope.

I do not believe that it was ever in God’s plan to test my family, but I do believe that God can be found in any situation.  Hope can be expressed even when there seems to be no hope at all.  There is Divine light that can be as small as a glimmer that radiates into places of darkness.  With this spark of illumination we are carried to the brilliance of absolute light.  I believe that in the middle of the deepest parts of our souls, God heals us from the inside out.

My sons will most likely never experience the physical healing from their bleeding disorders, but they will experience the miracle of the presence of God that transforms the world.  We hold fast to these acts of God that restore us and make us whole.  We journey forward hoping and praying that regardless of the physical issues that occur, we claim victory through the One who gives us strength and hope.

I Look to You

“My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy” (Ps. 63:5-7 NRSV).

I admit that while I like the cold, I love more sunlight during the day.  There is an excitement to the impending arrival of spring.  We think of rebirth and the hope of the newness that is to come.  I was sharing my feelings about the night time and how much I enjoy the day when someone in a group in which I was a member pointed out something that I missed right in front of my face.  My friend said to me, “Joe, remember that there is beauty in the night.  You must journey through the darkness to experience the gifts that are present.”

Our Lenten journey reminds us that we were a people who came out of darkness.  We looked at the stars to guide our hearts into the perfect light, the love of Christ.  We know what complete darkness feels like.  It is a place of fear and insecurity.  We, who have been transformed, know that our journey towards the brightness of God began with a tiny light to pierce the dark.  We can call the light a candle, a glow, a star or even a hope.  However the light may come when there is no light, we are never the same. 

This leads to the ultimate question that, since God is present in all things, is there really complete darkness?  Does our journey ever take us into a place where there is an absence of God?   The Psalmist states in Psalm 139 that, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Ps. 139:11-12).  We are never in complete darkness because God is present in all things.

I struggle with such a bold statement such as the one the Psalmist presents.  I have seen the harm that some people inflict on other people and I am afraid that I am led to more questions than answers.  If God is present in all things, then why is their suffering in this world?  I am encouraged to step even deeper into the heart and determine how in the world such atrocities exist if God is present in all things.

Unfortunately, humanity does not treat the environment (including ourselves and others) very well.  We see on the news everyday what groups of people inflict on other groups.  We don’t have very far to go to see the dehumanization of countless groups in our world beaten and left for dead.  Hunger takes its toll on innocent people.  Cancer and other diseases spread through the lives of those we love and we look at the text written by the psalmist and ask, “Are you kidding me?  Why would God allow this to happen in the lives of those around us?  Not only is our world dark, but it appears that God is not present in the blackness.”

I believe that the claim that is made in Psalm 139 concerning God’s presence is indeed true.  God truly is in all things.  Our responsibility is to share in the divine love and nurture it.  Our darkness is made light when we surrender to the love of the Great Creator.  In our perception of the darkness the Holy One calls us to focus on Him.  As we do, we come to realize that this overwhelming God transforms our hearts and minds and gives us comfort and peace.  What once was a dark place has now become light.

An assuredness of God’s presence is what gives us hope in the middle of the darkness.  When all else fails, there is one small light to break through the darkness of cancer, or the blackness of hunger and abuse.  There is no darkness, for God is in every space and place imaginable.   We embrace the light to guide us back to the incredible light of the Father.  God’s warmth is already here.  Will you recognize it and embrace it, or will you live in darkness and fear?  The choice is yours.

The Big Interview is Here

This week I have been flooded with emotions.  My interview for ordination is coming up on Tuesday.  It will end a journey that began about nine years ago in Houston.  I remember telling my wife about a burden that had been placed on my heart.  I remember being nervous as I told her that, “I believe that I had been called, set apart by God, for ordained ministry.”
I expected her to laugh and say, “Yeah, right!”  Instead she agreed with me.  I was floored as I went to the pastor of the church that I had been serving as a music director and shared with him my thoughts about ministry.  He acknowledged my calling and gave me a book to read about ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.  He then encouraged me to contact the District Superintendent to begin the process towards candidacy.
While I had many ups with a few downs thrown in, I have appreciated the journey.  My life has changed with or without ordination.  During this time of discernment my family took a big risk and moved to New Mexico.  We left all that we knew feeling that we were being called to our places of service.  I also flew once a week for three years to Denver to complete my seminary training.  Many of the obstacles I faced seemed insurmountable, but with God’s help, all challenges were met head on. 
Through it all my spirit still stayed true to the calling that was placed on my heart.  It has served me well and I am grateful that God has been my guide from the beginning.  Perhaps this is the most important lesson that I learned by taking this path towards my passion.  I discovered that following the road that leads to my own joy is the one that leads to God.  At the center of my own spirit is the fountainhead of God’s love in my life.  To continue along its waters is to live in the Spirit of God.  I hope to continue to share the radical presence of the Divine that has brought me to this moment.  Today, I am very grateful for the journey.

The Land of Milk and Honey

“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.

 

Remembering the Reason for My Journey

My youngest son was hospitalized earlier this week.  He is having another break thru bleed in his right knee.  The complications that he deals with are painful and seem to never let up.  There is no down time in our world when it comes to internal bleeding.  Bleeds happen often and without warning.  Each episode is unique unto itself and comes with its own share of physical and emotional issues.

Despite the hospitalization of my youngest son, this week I had several meetings scheduled with members of the hemophilia community.  I had been asked to motivate people to take part in a first annual Walkathon for the Sangre De Oro Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation.  (I will be posting how to participate in our Walkathon in a separate entry on my Facebook page).

As I was preparing what I would say, I was overwhelmed with the question, “Why do I participate in this community?”  I do it primarily to stay informed on the latest treatments and programs related to hemophilia.  Knowledge is power.  The more I know the better I can treat my sons disorders.

Another reason I participate in the Sangre De Oro Chapter is because I remember what it was like to have a newly diagnosed son with hemophilia.  I lived in Houston (a town of approximately 4 million people) and had never met anyone, to my knowledge, who had a bleeding disorder.  I felt alone and completely lost.  My emptiness was transformed into something I could never have imagined by a simple phone call.  It was the voice of another parent who reached out to my family.  Her child had hemophilia and assured my wife and I that we would be fine.  Our son would live a good life.

I was then invited to participate in the Houston area chapter of the bleeding disorders community and began helping out by working events.  With every project I learned more about my son, about hemophilia and I even learned about myself.  My goal was to ensure that no one needed to feel alone again.  I serve the community to help empower families who feel alone.  I want others to experience the message of hope.  I want people to know that they are not alone, and there is a community that longs to embrace everyone who struggles with bleeding disorders.  We want to journey together.

My message of service is so intertwined with my faith.  Our source of strength comes from the Divine promise that we are not alone.  We are called to be much more than we can be as a single entity.  Christ calls us into fellowship with one another.  At the center of our faith community we discover this message of hope and Good News.  At the core of our fellowship, we find the Gospel of Hope.

A Psalm of Hope

I just purchased a new computer and started looking through some of my files to determine whether or not I should put some of the documents on my hard drive.  As I was reviewing past assignments I stumbled across a Psalm that I wrote for one of my favorite classes that I took in seminary.  I’m posting it in the hopes that it will be a blessing in your life at it as it has been in mine.

A Psalm of Hope

            I will praise the Lord with all of my heart, and all of my soul.

            I will stand amazed at the wonder of His works.

            I will bless the Lord for the gift of music.

            The gift of song encompasses and surrounds me.

            It lifts my spirits up to the very presence of the creator.

 

            In my times of distress, it is the Lord’s song that reverberates through my being.

            That song, that allows me to sing its melodies. Even in a strange land.

            How wonderful are you my Creator, that You would fill me with hope.

            I prayed for refuge and found the promise of new life.

            My hope is built within Your river of overflowing love.

 

            My songs spring from my spirit.

            They exalt You from the inner workings of my being.

            You have set me apart with hope.

            I praise You for the greatness of joy.

            Praise to the Lord, the giver of life!

And a Daddy’s Heart Leapt for Joy!

Last night my sixteen year old son sang in his school choir’s holiday concert.  I will just say that the program was a very ambitious collection of time honored works as well as new music.  One could get carried away with over analyzing the program.  I know I have to shut down my musical snobbery button and simply listen to the wonderful students excited about their own acts of music making.  I just thought to myself, “Thank God this is good literature and I wasn’t trapped listening to a concert of Christmas music from the 50’s.”

What moved me so much was the absolute joy I saw in my son’s eyes as he had a place on the stage.  His very being oozes music.  I was watching him at the end of a number and he turned to a few other boys in the choir and they just looked at one another and laughed.  My son could not have been in a moment that was more perfect for him than in that moment.  I was thrilled for my “big ole stinky boy.”

I was reminded that, as a pastor, father, husband, etc., I can get so caught up in the business of the season that I forget to see the small expressions of joy around me.  I could miss my youngest son sitting next to me rocking out to some of his favorite music.  I could have missed my oldest son expressing his passion for being a part of a wonderful young group of musicians.

I hope that I never get so complacent and busy that I can’t experience and see the love which surrounds me as a pastor, husband, father, and friend.  I hope that I never lose sight of the joy that is an integral part of the church as those of us who are in the choir prepare for the big Christmas Cantata.  May we always find a brief moment of love as it surrounds us when we open a Christmas card.  It lets me know that I am connected to something much bigger than which I am on my own.

Let us keep the joy of the season by finding the love in everything that we do.  We will discover the basis of our hope and absolute dependence on God and how the Sacred is expressed in the care of others.  May you find the joy in everything that you do in this Christmas season.  God’s choicest blessings work through you and around you.

And as for that dad whose heart leapt for joy?  There is no Christmas present greater than seeing your family happy.  There is no store that can purchase it.  There is no place that can manufacture it.  I am fortunate to have been in a place to look and simply catch a glimpse of it.  May my son have many more concerts that cause him to rear back and laugh for joy.

It’s Okay to Mourn

I am entering the week that marks the end of the firsts regarding my mother’s death.  This is the first Thanksgiving that she will not be with us.  This time last year she was in the hospital.  Has a year really gone by?

My life has radically changed since last November.  I have a new home, new church, new car.  My family is readjusting to living in a big city.  While we learned many lessons “on the prairie” we are grateful to be back in a place that affords us the opportunities to which we grew accustomed to in Houston.  Having an Albertsons back in my life is wonderful!

So, while I have experienced all of these wonderful changes, I still feel an amount of sadness.  I am still in a season of grief.  I miss my mom (particularly at this time of year).  I miss hearing the excitement in her voice as she made plans to visit us during the holidays.  I miss talking about the “appropriate” things that my children should get from Santa.  Of course my mom didn’t care what I had to say, my children would be smothered in gifts to their heart’s delights.

While I love my family and my life is very rich and full, for a year now there has been a hole that speaks loudly in my life.  I am very grateful that my mother wasn’t ill at the end of her life.  She died almost immediately after she suffered a pulmonary embolism.  Praise God that it was quick and she experienced little if any pain.  I am convinced that she opened her eyes on the other side and beheld the incredible wonders of God.  Claiming the promises of my faith I admit that I still miss her.

As I move through my grief I rejoice that God’s work still journeys forward.  I am grateful that my ministry continues to move forward with the reassurance that we are all doers of the Word.  We move forward with hope, knowing that God will comfort in times of joy, grief, sorrow, etc…  Name them all, God will be there.

God’s presence does not indicate that we will not feel loss.  Quite the opposite.  Our faith is made whole as we fall into the arms of God who will nurture us through the periods of mourning.  This is the center of our hope.  Through sadness, God will still be there.

I pray that the blessings of God will be with you now and always.  I pray that you may grow in the love and knowledge of God.  I pray for all that mourn; that they may be comforted.

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.

Gratitude for the Love of My Life

I am afraid to put something out into the universe because of the fear that something may happen to prevent us from going. My wife and I are actually going on a retreat tomorrow without our children in tow. While it may sound like I am an ungrateful parent, I assure you that I love my family dearly. My aunt who I call my “Precious Princess” is visiting from Houston and will help man the house while we are away in the mountains.

I was talking to my wife yesterday and both of us were stumped when we tried to remember the last time that we traveled together sans the boys. We can’t remember. All we know is that we are excited to have a little time away for rest and relaxation. This retreat couldn’t have come at a better time for us as we celebrate today twenty-four years since our first date. Wow!

Those who know us are probably in shock that we have been together for such a long time. I look at the person I was and can’t believe that the young man who first looked at that young woman would be sitting here twenty-four years later and feel so incredibly blessed. It is this woman who has been patient with me and gave me the gift of family in a way that I could never have imagined. She reminds me that God is indeed good!

As we prepare for our retreat (thank you Bishop Max) I give thanks that I am able to take a few moments out of my week to spend quality time with the absolute love of my life. May we take a few moments to laugh together, to reflect on the past, to plan for the future, but mostly to enjoy the present. I pray that we have many more years together as God continues to surround us with blessings that we could never have predicted when we were those very young people. May we see our children’s children live out their dreams with the hope and knowledge that their family is one based on love.

christopherjoiner

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