As a pastor, I am privileged to a wealth of information. There are times that I just shake my head and keep moving forward. No matter what I hear, I try to listen for the truth that is sometimes buried deep within the stories that people tell. Through the deep level of hurt and sadness, there lies the mustard seed of our deepest wants along with our deepest needs. The challenge that I face as a pastoral caregiver is to encourage people to tap into these deep places.
Too often we stop, afraid to travel to the headwaters of our souls. Many of us are afraid of what we may find. This is an allusion because all of us who have boldly made the journey find freedom at the realization of our true selves. I am speaking about our most authentic selves. That part of us that includes the divine spark of ingenuity. The space that the very core of who we are and what we believe exists.
We know the time that we tap into the special places in our hearts. Something within us comes to life. The gospel of our lives transforms us and strengthens us. We find a renewed spark of hope, and a commitment to remain faithful to the truths that have been shared by the Divine.
There is a part of us that is not wounded by pain. It is bathed in light and provides strength. Sometimes it is masked by layers upon layers of hurt, shame, regret, etc… Once discovered, the possibilities are endless. We must remain diligent to rediscover who we were created to be.
Today, I am thankful for the journey. I am grateful that I boldly travel into the deeper resources of my soul to discover my truest self. My hope is that we all may walk on towards healing and wholeness so that we may claim the promises revealed to us by our Creator. Praise be to God, who gives us the victory.
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.
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.
There was a phrase that I heard a long time ago. Someone told me, “My mind is in a dangerous neighborhood, so I never go there alone.” I laughed as my friend revealed this information. As I continue through the years I often come back to that phrase. I think I have even used it in a sermon or two.
There is a lot of truth about my friend’s remark. My mind can travel into some seriously strange places. My thoughts can bring tremendous amounts of joy, but they can also lead me into the darkest places imaginable. Sometimes, thought processes can arrest me and hold me hostage. I am often overwhelmed by my own projections or anxieties stimulated by my psyche.
This is where the power of God steps in and sets within me a new place to dwell. It takes me out of the rough neighborhood and into a place that brings healing and wholeness. I am no longer forced to surrender to the negative thoughts and feelings that want to move into my mental space. I am given the power to reclaim my heart and offer it to God. My strength stems not from my own abilities, but the power of the Holy One.
My task is to remember that I have moved out of the neighborhood of despair and regret and into a place that affirms me and guides me. I am no longer in a place of shame and sorrow. I have to stop acting like I live in that negative space. That is a very hard thing to do; shift my paradigm. I am not left to my own defenses, but it is God who secures my heart. I am a new creation.
For today, let us live in the joy and peace that God gives to us. The world will see that we have been changed. They will see the light that shines in our hearts. They will long to move into a neighborhood similar to ours. We will now be able to say, “I live in a new neighborhood, and it is God who dwells with me. It is divine light that shines and lights my path.” Praise be to God.
I am currently reading a book that addresses the nature of shame. I must admit that this issue is one that I have struggled with for most of my life. I was raised with a belief that I should be ashamed of who I am because I am not athletic. All of my interests were directed towards creativity and the performing arts. As a little boy growing up in the South, this was an abomination. The message was perfectly clear; something was wrong with me.
I embraced the shame of my particular situation and learned how to mask it. I survived by learning how to deflect the shots aimed at my heart. My truth became something that I held fast to. I did everything that I could to protect it. I thought that the people around me never really wanted to get to know me, because if they did they would never like the real me. This was how I navigated my world. Shame was the driving force that guided me in most of my decisions. I felt as if I had no agency.
My healing came as I started to reclaim my voice and allow God to come into those places that I felt that no one could enter. Slowly (and I do mean slowly) I began to embrace the little boy inside of me that was frightened and ashamed of simply being himself. The Spirit began to heal those deep wounds and I have grown to appreciate my younger self. The person who secretly struggled with just about every area of life.
I admire that little boy’s strength that could keep going, even when everything around him was calling him inadequate and useless. What amazing strength this boy possessed. His unwavering commitment to never give up. To keep moving forward. To never quit believing that the amazing God of the Universe lived within him.
Today I am grateful for being set free of the constant shame that controlled me. As we invite God into the darkest recesses of our spirits we will began to see the act of creation within ourselves. We will be changed. Slowly but surely. We must be patient and do the work that we are able to do one reveal at a time. Praise be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ, our Lord!
On Thursday I was going through my daily tasks of clergy life when I received an unexpected e-mail from a friend. I smiled and continued my day. By Friday I had heard from several other friends (all in the same boat of navigating church life). At this point, I could not help but give thanks for what they all bring to my life.
Throughout our lives we are given the gift of friendships and enjoy the company of wonderful people who weave their way in and out of our lives with careful attention to the patterns that are stitched together in the depths of our spirits. Some people journey with us a lifetime while others are only with us for brief periods of time. No matter how long they are with us there is one truth that exists; our lives are better because they taught us valuable lessons to which we hold fast. We live stronger. We love richer and deeper.
Today I am especially grateful for my new friends that attend Austin Seminary. Yes we will journey on with the hope that we will stand and celebrate the milestone of receiving our Doctorate of Ministry degree. Somewhere in the middle of this educational pursuit, I have come to realize that one of the biggest life lessons that I am continuing to learn is that it is never too late to share in the joys of friendships.
I give thanks that we are hard wired to share our lives with each other. I look forward to the many more times we will have to discuss life’s issues and rejoice in a project being finished, or a life event that occurs. This is the spark that motivates me to continue my journey. Praise be to the One who created us. Today my amazing friends, I say, “Thanks be to God for you!” Oh yeah, and did I mention that I give thanks?
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.
“Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord” (1 Pet. 3:14b-15a CEB).
Yesterday I started by letting my fears be known. Okay, some of my fears. The truth is that fear is such a deeply rooted part of my psyche that I am not aware of its powers and hold over me. It sometimes it leaves me crippled and without a sense of purpose. It comes out in ways that hold my soul hostage and a freeze comes in and leaves my soul motionless.
The Biblical text from the third chapter of 1 Peter addresses those who shared in my struggle. I obviously was not the first person (nor will I be the last) to know what it is like to let fear control different parts of life. The ancient believers struggled as well. There was much of which to be afraid. To be discovered as a believer in Christ in the first and second century Palestine was to risk being imprisoned or even worse, martyred. There was a lot at stake to confess being a follower of the Amazing One.
It is in the middle of chaos that the author of the Book of 1 Peter reminds believers to not fear what everyone around us fears. This implies that there is good fear and there is fear that is not life giving. I am not simply called to dismiss the fact that I am afraid, but to redirect my fear back to God. In other words, as long as I can find strength from God in the middle of the times that put me on high alert, then fear can become a reminder that in the middle of all of this stuff that is hurled against me, God will be there in the middle of it all.
My hope is that you are able to acknowledge the most basic parts of you that is weighed down by fear and all of its negative consequences. I think calling them by name and writing them in a journal is a great way to begin this journey. We come before God authentically and say, “Here it is God; the stuff that I know that keeps me from worshiping you fully. The stuff that keeps me so blind that I can’t even see your amazing handiwork in my life.” Be open to allow the Spirit of God to help you see all of the other things in your life that seem to hold you captive.
Tomorrow I will write about the idea or thought of good fear.
I am reflecting back on the journey my family and I have taken over the course of the year. My youngest son spent almost every holiday between October thru February in the hospital. I helplessly stood by and watched my son lose the ability to walk. He was suffering from an internal bleed that occurred right in the knee joint. As the bleed progressed he lost mobility in his right leg. He could not extend his leg fully and the bleeding continued for almost four months.
Hemophilia has reared its ugly head in our family many more times than I care to admit. At times living with the effects of a bleeding disorder takes a toll on one’s psyche. For me as the caregiver it is sometimes overwhelming. I can’t imagine how my son must feel.
Last week my stinky boy and I went to the ice rink near my home. He wanted to go with me to see me skate. I enjoyed seeing him sit in the stands. This was a part of my life that I had not shared with him. The ice actually is my solitude.
As I was leaving the ice my son said to me, “Daddy, I wish I could skate.” It never occurred to me that he would want to join me. I quickly grabbled around for the right words to say to him. I said, “Son, I will teach you how to skate.” As I listened to the words come out of my mouth I realized that all I have to offer my amazing boy are words of assurance. Sometimes a quick message of hope is all that we can bring to the table in the toughest of times. These mighty words filled with confidence and a promise that things will not stay the same.
I give thanks today that we are at a new point in our treatment. Knock on wood, my son has not had a bleed since February. With the help of a good physical therapist he is beginning to walk again. It is our hope that he will not depend on a wheelchair in the very near future. We will look back on this season of struggle and give thanks for the lessons that we have learned through these difficult times.
I will teach him to skate. I will also teach him many other things reserved for dads and sons. I will continue to be his biggest cheerleader; his biggest advocate. I will…
I asked my son to come and help prepare the church for tonight’s gathering. We will honor and remember the ancient custom known as Stations of the Cross. As our fantastic Youth Director guided us through the preparation, my son mentioned to me that this was a lot of work for one night. I explained to him that our practices and customs are very important to us and that if just one person experienced the resurrected Christ in a new and profound way, then our work was not in vain.
I can take it a step further; even if no one’s heart was changed it was worth every ounce of energy that we all utilized to finish the beautiful reminder of God’s incredible gift of freedom from spiritual bondage given to us. It is overwhelming to think that God offered humanity the most incredible of all presents knowing full well there was a tremendous amount of risk involved in His offering. Jesus’ followers could have run away and left without giving their rabbi another thought. All could have been lost. The light of the world could have been diminished and snuffed out before it ever defeated the darkness.
I am very humbled by the thought that God carried out this incredible sacrifice to ensure my salvation. The Divine poured out amazing love that falls down on us from heaven in the gift of His very own Son. Every once and a while I think of the holy risk given to call my heart and fall down in worship because I am loved in a way that can never be fully put into words. We have been redeemed or called back into right relationship by God. Our souls are restored to a holy and loving heavenly presence. Not because we deserved it, but because God chose it for us. This night I only think, “Praise be to God, who has the victory over sin and death!” I thank God because if just one person experienced the resurrected Christ in a new and profound way, then the work (our gift of salvation) was worth every moment of heavenly labor.