Each year, as Annual Conference begins, I remembered my ordination service several years ago. I remember how a boy raised in exceedingly challenging circumstances found his way to a place unimaginable among his family. I represent the struggles to rise out of generational poverty and into a paradigm shift affecting future generations. I look at my cousins and celebrate that while I am the first to start a journey towards endless possibilities, praise God I am not the last.
I reflect on the difficult road I traveled, knowing that having a goal is one thing, but to achieve objectives requires fortitude, patience, and endurance. It is not easy to move from one set of unspoken rules to another without suffering setbacks and heartache. The journey is rough and requires perseverance and grace. One most constantly battles demons that attempt to keep a person relegated into a life that fights to maintain unwilling victims in a class system that offers little exit.
Yet, despite all obstacles, I sit in my office, at my pastoral desk, equipped with an education I never dreamed possible as a child. I live by the statement of human worth taken from Psalm 139, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” This statement is my mantra on this journey. I remind myself that I am God’s creation, and therefore I possess attributes that transcend a class structure, filled with unwritten do’s and don’ts. Each mandate attempts to define me and put me in a box, but I refused to surrender.
Friends, I cannot pretend to know the journey that one travels, but I know who will guide us. Hold fast to the reality that our past does not define us, nor how others attempt to characterize us. We start by acknowledging that we receive our self-worth from God and not from humanity. The rest is greatness, as we depend on the Divine for guidance.
“If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!” (Is. 64:1 CEB).
Advent is a season that calls us into a re-examination of our faith life. What are the things that we keep in the shadows; that we are scared to admit even to God? We all have something that stays in the darkness. What hold you back from trusting in people? Where do you need to rediscover a sense of hope?
A fearless inventory of our longings and shortcomings lead us into a season that calls us to expose our struggles and enter a more intimate relationship with the Creator. We plead that God tear open the heavens, come and be with us, O Lord. We seek and need divine guidance. Our community needs to experience a sacred presence with us.
So, the start of our Advent journey rings loudly. The invitation to receive deliverance from our souls’ darkest recess calls us on a path of faithfulness. We start by taking one step at a time and being careful that we do not miss the holiness of the season of expectation. God will mend a broken heart, restore hope, comfort in times of grief.
God is the great healer, but there is one part of the equation that requires our action. We must be faithful participates in the journey. Without our work, God’s promise simply sits on a shelf. Our confidence comes when trusting that the One, who leads us, is the one who will never leave anyone stranded.
Prayer of the Day: Come to us, Lord Jesus. We need to hear from you. Be with us as we take a leap of faith during this Advent season and face whatever is our stumbling block. Come to us, renew us, and make us whole.
“But there are also many other things Jesus did; and if they were all to be recorded, I don’t think the whole world could contain the books that would have to be written!” (John 21:25 CJSB).
As the Gospel of John comes to a close, the above verse is the last one. To sum up the phrase, Jesus completes so many miracles, that there were not enough writing utensils to record everything. We only have highlights (which is more than enough to feed us), while Jesus continued to love the people around Him. Our road map, the Gospels, gives us all that we need to know to follow the Messiah. Love God with everything you are (warts and all) and love your neighbor as yourself. To complete the two commandments requires a change of heart, which leads to redemption and hope.
I believe that Jesus continues to work miracles all around us. We simply must stop and look to find the Holy Spirit alive and well in our day-to-day living. Think of the many ways that God guides you on your path, and recall the healing processes in which the hope of Jesus restored you to wholeness. There are enough miracles we continue to witness that could not fit in a book. The Holy One is deeply connected to us and restores our souls.
My hope for us, as we leave the Gospels and begin reading the Book of Acts, is that we take a few moments to look around and remember, Jesus, is still in the business of healing hearts and restoring minds. Praise be to God that we may stop and give thanks for all that we receive from the Father. Let us stop, observe that beauty of faith, and then go out into the world to make a difference. In so doing, the last verse of Luke is not an ending of the story, but a continuation.
“God answered him (Moses), ‘Who gives a person a mouth? Who makes a person dumb or deaf, keen-sighted or blind? Isn’t it I, Adonai?'” (Ex. 4:11 CJB).
Those of us who either have or are caregivers for those with chronic illness know what it is like to feel as if we are the cause of our loved one’s affliction. We said or did something wrong, and because of our sins, our punishment is relegated to those closest to us. Guilt overwhelms us and leaves us spiritually paralyzed. We ask ourselves, “What have I done God, that my dear one must face every day with his/her affliction?” This question reverberates over and over in our brains until we cannot hear the truth that everyone is created in the image of God.
I’ve moderated many groups of those with bleeding disorders. Because the genetic marker is on the X-chromosome, hemophilia is passed through the mothers DNA. Newly diagnosed families handle the shock in different ways. It is my experience that a mother feels a tremendous amount of guilt while a father is frustrated because he cannot fix the problem. It is out of his control.
Enter the fantastic verse from Exodus. While Moses attempts to make every excuse known to man why he should not be the one who returns to Egypt to free the Hebrew people from slavery, God says, “Hold up Moses! What is going on with you? I made everybody, including those who have every kind of disability. I even created those with every type of chronic illness known and unknown (I insert the word hemophilia).
Hear this, let us be very careful in who we call whole and healthy. To God, there is no difference between any of us. The Creator did not make a mistake when we were fashioned together in the womb of our mothers. Everyone one of us is made in the imageo Dei (image of God). As such, we are all perfectly designed. Each of us created with a spirit longing to sing praises unto our God.
This day, let us live with purpose knowing whose we are. Seek out the God of our understanding and sit in silence, giving thanks to the Creator. Chronic illness may change how we live our lives and relate to the world, but they can never keep us from living out our purpose in a society that cannot fathom how we can live in a state of joy always and everywhere, giving thanks to our amazing God. Amen.
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.
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!
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…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.
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.
My schedule over the next few weeks will be chaotic to say the least. Over the course of the next three weeks I will travel from my home to Glorieta, Austin, El Paso, back to Austin, and then home. And in the middle of all of this travel, I will be attending the New Mexico Conference of the United Methodist Church’s Annual Conference, and then taking a third course in my DMin program at Austin Presbyterian Seminary. As I write this, I think I know why I am feeling so overwhelmed. The travel alone is enough to kill a person.
While I am a little stressed out, I look forward to seeing old friends and reaffirming new friends. I look forward to experiencing the energy that new adventures bring into my life. Through all of the struggles, there are glimpses of excitement and spiritual renewal. There is no time like the present to remember and give thanks for little nuggets of hope that come into my path. This is what feeds me and keeps me going. These journeys remind me of why I dared to change the course of my life and step into something completely different.
My hope for today is to not let the preparations for the journey be an incredible source of stress as I journey. I must move forward giving thanks for what lies ahead of me. I hope to remember that when things get tough, I will recall the kindness and humor that are present in my life. I hope to remember the friendships that make me aware of the many people that stand behind me and support me through all of life’s ups and downs. Praise be to God for the people that love me and make me aware that I am more than I ever though that I could be.