A Summer Treat

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This picture was taken at my sons’ favorite restaurant.  It is called Burrito Express.  Both boys enjoy the wonderful tortillas that are made on the spot.  This restaurant is as close to Tex-Mex that we can get living in Rio Rancho.  We are New Mexicans by choice, but the food from Texas will always be near and dear to our hearts.

Don’t let my 19 year old son’s face fool you.  He had a good time in spite of my request to take a selfie.  I am sure everyone remembers those incredibly awkward moments that you did something out of a sense of obligation.  The expression on my son’s face says it all.  “Dad, please.  Taking this picture is not the highlight of my day.”  While that may be so, the food was well worth it!

What I enjoyed, more than the food, was a chance to connect with my stinky sons.  We sat and ate and laughed about ridiculous things.  These are moments that I treasure beyond words, for they capture the unique camaraderie that I share with these two amazing men.  I hope that this is a summer that they will look back on and smile as they remember that insane picture, the delicious food, and their insane dad, smiling with absolute joy over being blessed with small bursts of time with my amazing sons.

Today, I am grateful for my family, who constantly remind me that when life gets messy and stressful, they are there to be a place of comfort.  I look at this picture and realize that I am very blessed.  I could never have imagined that I would be the father of these guys, much less a husband (In December we will be married for 23 years) to the one who is truly the love of my life.  Praise Be to God, indeed!

Miracles Are All Around Us!

I could write about the wonderful class that I just finished at Austin Presbyterian Seminary, but then I would also have to write about the amazing friendships that I developed while I was in Austin.  I could write about the incredible fact that my son is turning nineteen years old tomorrow, but then I would also have to write about the amazing gift of being a father.  With so many amazing things going on around me, I think I can sum them all up in a simple little word; miraculous.

It is a herculean feat that I am even enrolled in a doctorate program.  Boys with my demographic background are lucky to get a high school diploma.  How blessed am I to not adhere to such low expectations.  I serve a God that whispers incredible strength into my soul and says to me, “You are not finished!  Continue to reach for heights beyond anything or anyone.  I created in you a desire to live out your life, complete with passion and joy.”

And the friendships that I am developing at the Seminary…well, let’s just say that they are the kind that one hopes for throughout one’s life.  These amazing people that have made it clear that I am loved unconditionally.  Those words can be said, but when they are spoken with heart and truth, they are game changers.  It is indeed what I call miraculous.

Then there is my son, that is one of the greatest gifts (my youngest son included) that I could have ever been given.  He is an amazing young man with incredible amounts of talents.  I never knew how to identify a miracle in my life, until I saw his face.  That incredible face, that looked on me immediately, and I knew that I was standing in the presence of a divine gift from God himself.  How blessed I am to have this one human being change my life in ways that I could have never imagined.  And it all took one little word; daddy.

Today, I am humbled to see the miraculous all around me.  I see it in my family, my friends, my calling into ministry.  Praise be to God who continues to mold me and places signs and miracles all around me to remind me that I call someone mein vati.  My daddy.

Gratitude

Gratitude…what a simple little word with incredible depth. There is no other way to describe the moments when I am overcome with thanksgiving for my journey. Sometimes I have climbed some very large mountains, while at other times I simply walk in quiet pastures. While the scenery may change at a moment’s notice, the presence of God is with me, always encouraging me to continue down the path.

The past few weeks have proven very rough. Sometimes, there have been mountains that appeared to be too high, or too impossible to climb. The good news is that I reached the summit and continued my journey. Each challenge has been met. Each experience a chance to grow in grace.

And through it all, there is an incredible awareness of gratitude. Thanks to the friends who remind me that I am a part of something so much bigger than I could imagine on my own. Grateful for colleagues who support me and encourage me to continue to grow and become the pastor and person that I want to be. And most of all, a family who believes in me and encourages me to continue to reach for the stars.

Today, I am thankful for the presence of the Divine, as I am filled with strength and purpose. Thanks be to the One who is my creator, who designed me to be the person that I am, complete with joy and hope. Praise be to God, who fashions us in His image. My hope is that we all might remember that we are created to be who we are and not anybody else. We are enough! End of story.

More Travel?

Last week I was in Glorietta, NM attending the New Mexico Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. I went home on Friday and flew to Austin, Texas to take my third class in my Doctorate of Ministries studies. While I enjoy traveling, I am a home body at heart. There is nothing more enjoyable to me than to be at home working on projects around the house. The last thing I wanted to do this morning was get on a plane.

While it is exhausting, I am reminded that the journey is worth it. Through all of the struggle and stress, the prize is in sight. It is just a matter of continuing forward and not stopping. That is the key to our struggles. We must journey on.

As we continue down the path, we learn to appreciate the marvels of God that surround us. It can come in the form of a friend who sends a text to let you know that he/she is thinking of you, a friend who strikes up a conversation that reminds you how important that you are in their world, or a colleague who hand picks you to be their partner for a class project. In whatever way God chooses to reveal God’s self in your life, you must be present on the journey to notice the still small voice that is holy and divine.

Today, I am thankful for friends who reveal themselves in mysterious ways in my life. I give thanks to a God who reminds me that moments with special people are separate and holy. It all starts as a part of the journey. Let us remember to give thanks to the One, who created us and gave us the heart to be a part of a wonderful family.

A Day of Remembrance and Rest

Today is a holiday to remember and give thanks for those who have served in our Armed Forces. It is with gratitude that I say, “Thank you for your service.” I give thanks for the many members of my family who made a difference in my life. There are not enough words to express my thanks for leaving an incredible legacy to my generation. We must move forward equipped with the gift of hope and passion.

In addition to showing my appreciation for those who served in our military, I am grateful for a wonderful day of rest. There was nothing exciting about the day. It was quiet and peaceful; just the kind of day that is needed every now and then. I claimed sanctuary at home and did some much needed tasks around the house.

I caught myself starting the day feeling a little anxious. How would I make my day count? What will I do to claim success? The answer was, be still and know. Through my anxiety, I simply heard, “Joe, just chill out. Enjoy your day.”

Sometimes it is a little rough to stay still. I am hard wired to get up in the morning and hit the ground running. It seems like there are not enough hours in the day for me to accomplish every task that I want to finish. I think, “If I only had another hour.” I know that if I had another hour I would find a way to use it up, only needing another and another. It seems to not stop.

Today I give thanks for a day of rest. I am grateful to live in a nation that allows me to pursue my heart’s desire. I give thanks for the many men and women who have secured our freedom. May we continue to honor their sacrifices by living our lives with purpose and joy. While we rest, let us remember to direct our lives so that others may see the light of Christ that flows from the deepest parts of our spirit.

When Souls Collide

This weekend I had the opportunity to sing with my big stinky son.  I love to make music with him, because I know that he gets me.  We sound alike and our phrasing is similar.  Several of the members of the congregation told me that they couldn’t hear the difference between our sounds.  We blend that well.  It is amazing and something that I can’t share with anyone else on the planet.

Okay, now on to what made my day.  I got home from church and started to make myself a plate for lunch.  My son came out of his room and said, “Dad, I really like singing with you.”  At that moment, I was left speechless.  I don’t think that he had any idea how much that one little phrase meant to me.

There is something about sharing a part of who you are with someone else.  For me, on this day, it was my son and the gift of making music.  It is overwhelming and quite inspiring to know that there is a sacred space that he and I share together.  I cherish it and call it a holy space, because it is wonderful and set apart.

And after hearing him acknowledge his joy, we immediately set our sights on the next selection that we will sing.  It is an honor to share my first love with him.  The art of making music.  This is the gift that I share with my family.  Creating beauty out of nothingness.  Breathing melodies and harmonies into existence as souls share in the incredible acclamations of life and love.  Praise be to God, who gives us the victory in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

My Greatest Work of Art

Yesterday Cazandra and I decided to watch one of our favorite movies, the Cider House Rules.  Both the movie and the book are amazing and deal with issues of abandonment, family, and true calling.  It is storytelling at its finest.  I was drawn to something that the character Dr. Larch writes to Wilbur in a letter.  He writes, “You are my greatest work of art.”

What an amazing statement to make to and about someone.  I sat with that sentence for a while.  As I kept answering the question in my head, my camera lens kept shifting wider and wider.  I couldn’t quite capture the answer to the question, “Who is my greatest work of art?” in one broad sweeping acclamation.

I could easily say my children.  That would be safe and easy, and truthful.  What about my wife and the life that we have shared for over 26 years?  Surely, she would have to be a part of my answer.  Then, what about the many students I taught, or the many people that I directed as a minister of music?  What about family and friends?  What about performing?  What about being in the role of pastor?

My greatest work of art had to include all of my experiences.   Perhaps the paintbrush included the times that divine love and purpose transcended the craziness of everyday life and revealed itself in profound ways.  I am talking about the special moments that redefined the course of my life.  Moments like kissing my wife for the very first time, finding out that my sons were coming into the world, secrets shared in confidence, making music that left me breathless, discovering that it was okay to be me and to live in this world as my complete self.

I think our lives are the true masterpieces; our creations, that give thanks and ultimately point to the Creator.  Thank God that we are given these gifts.  The incredible awareness that love itself seeks to make the world better through our acts.  This is breathtaking.  It is indeed miraculous.  It is a masterpiece.

I hope that you move forward in your journey with the hope and knowledge that God is creating something that is rich and profound in your spirit.  It is perfect.  It is complete.  It is life changing in its scope and design.  Today, I say thank God for the incredible masterpieces that are being revealed in all of us!

Today’s Reminder

Most days I go about my business and get caught up in the routine of my schedule.  Now don’t get me wrong.  My activities throughout the day are anything but routine.  Most days I have to roll with the flow.  I am talking about routine being how long I am away from home, when things are due for bulletins and newsletters, the time for visitations.  These are the things that happen every week.

Then there days like this one, when I am hit over the head with a sudden awareness of how much someone means to me.  I am talking about my big stinky boy.  The one who will be 19 in June.  As a parent, I want nothing more than his happiness.  I will move heaven and earth to help him find the thing that brings him joy.

When he came into the world I remember holding him in my arms.  He was screaming like crazy.  I started singing a song that I sang to Cazandra’s belly just about every day she was pregnant.  Immediately, when he heard my voice he stopped crying and started looking around the room.  I will never forget that moment.  It still takes my breath away.  I felt a connection to another person like I had never had before that second.  Looking around the room at Cazandra and then Julian I knew that I was blessed beyond all measure.  Praise be to God that even someone like me could know absolute joy!

Whatever it was that took me back to that moment in the hospital today, I am grateful to remember my son’s presence in my life.  I pray that he becomes the person that he was created to be and live into the passions that were planted deep within his soul.  I hope that he will always know that there is a divine presence in his life that will always be his source of strength and hope.  I thank him for the many lessons that he taught me about what it truly means to become a man.

Today, I thank God for the ability to stamp a moment in time in my spirit; to remind me of my most incredible moments of awareness when the Holy Spirit speaks brilliantly into my life.  I am grateful that I still want to add a little phrase to Psalm 139:14, “I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart” (CEB).  The phrase I want to add is this, “But look at my boy!”

I ask you, today for whom are you the most grateful?  Share with them right now.  Let them know how important they are.  Let them know that they matter.

Grateful for an Amazing Church

Today I am filled with gratitude for being able to serve as the pastor of an amazing congregation. What a wonderful day we had celebrating Palm Sunday. I am grateful to the many people who helped prepare a service that was very unique and incredibly powerful. The service included palms, communion, and an incredible group of actors who brought the Last Supper to life. I was blessed to play the John, the Beloved Disciple. The people, especially Sallye, worked incredibly hard to prepare for the service today.

I am also grateful for Ms. Kim, who is the best youth director in the world. Her tireless efforts to bring the light of Christ to every member of the church is remarkable. After our amazing service in the morning, the church was transformed into the Stations of the Cross. Each station was set in a separate room in the church. Those who took part in this ancient tradition were allowed a time for introspection and contemplative worship. I left feeling as if I was prepared to take the amazing journey to the cross, to death, and to Easter.

How blessed am I? I am thrilled to be serving a church that is hungry to share the love of God with a community that is desperate to hear a word of hope. What joy there is in walking life’s journey with people who call you family! I write as a pastor filled with tremendous gratitude and love for a mighty congregation called Rio Rancho United Methodist Church. Praise be to God, who gives us the victory!

It Is Good to Be Back

It was great to be back in the pulpit this Sunday. I have not preached in two weeks due to some very special Sundays in the life of our church. While we worshipped well the last few weeks, I felt like I was back where I belonged this morning. Life seemed to be balanced, right where everything makes sense.

There is a feeling of strength and wholeness that I experience when delivering a sermon. Nothing feels the same. I have a place in which the words that come out of my mouth matter. I enjoy struggling with the issues of life and God, along with my congregation. Transformation occurs as I surrender to the One who gives me strength. I become a vehicle by which hope can be expressed in ways that will empower a room full of those seeking solace.

There is something that is other worldly when I stand before the congregation each Sunday morning. It is a time to share absolute gratitude for being allowed to live in a space that is holy and sacred. This is where lives are made whole and hearts are “strangely warmed.” I am blessed beyond all measure, because I get to share with everyone what the Holy One has done in my life. Believe me, it is a true miracle!

It is my hope that you will find that special something that guides you and brings you into your heart’s joy. You may be able to share that passion with a world that needs to hear the good news. Stand up and allow the Spirit to guide you and direct your path. You will be much happier as you continue your journey.

Praise be to God that we can search and find our passions in life. May we embrace them and give thanks for all that we are given. Live within the joy of your salvation and know that you were created to shine the light of God into the world. Be ever present and always joyful.

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.