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.
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.
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 are people that we meet along the path that, if not careful, will attempt to rob us of our joy. We are left with a feeling of discouragement and absolute defeat. We must be careful to keep the light of God vital and alive in spite of what is going on around us. While this is difficult today, it is necessary. The message that we have to share with the world is way too crucial and way too important to let anyone capture our hearts and leave us injured and isolated.
When this happens, and believe me it happens, I first want to leave and simply not engage. I want to escape to a safe place. This is where God picks me up and gives me the strength to overcome the noise of those who try to steal my voice. I am to rise up and proclaim the gospel (good news) of what God has done in my life. I must remember that my life matters. God will speak through me.
Today, I am thankful that I can continue down a path that reminds me that I am loved beyond my wildest imagination. That, even though I experience a setback, I will still be invited to continue on the path. I know that there will be “Joy Killers” along the way. I must not let them take that spark of divine excitement that gives me hope.
May we find safety in the knowledge that no matter what obstacles that we face, our God will give us strength for our journey. We are simply called to move forward. The rest will be taken care of by the one who gives us hope. Let us embrace the lessons that we learn as we travel our path one step at a time.
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!
As Holy Saturday draws to a close I feel as if I am walking through a door to begin another adventure. My Lenten obligation is fulfilled with the writing of this blog entry. Forty days of writing have been lessons in commitment and overcoming fear. While sometimes I felt overwhelmed by continuing to put my thoughts into written words each day, I leave the season of Lent with a sense of purpose and gratitude.
Before the season started it would take me literally hours to post a blog. I would check my writing over and over again for errors, expressions, or anything else that caught my eye. It got to the point that it became too exhausting to write an entry. I didn’t have enough hours in my day to proof my work and get other tasks accomplished. Writing each day gave me the freedom to express myself without having to be so incredibly critical of what I put on paper.
I am not saying that my work was not well thought out. I made sure that I had a purpose for creating an entry each day. Through this journey I was open to where the Spirit led me. There was a surrender to the presence of the Holy Mystery, as it revealed something within my spirit each and every day. There were only a couple of times that I struggled to put something down. Most days were filled with a divine guidance and a joy for living.
Now this daily journey is coming to a close, but the lessons that I learned throughout the season enhance my walk and my faith. I know that I will not be able to continue writing every day, but I will be sitting down to put pen to paper much more often than I had before Ash Wednesday. Praise be to God, who still guides us and teaches us throughout our lives. We grow by moving forward and not remaining idle.
So, I leave this space by walking through a new door. I do not know what opportunities are ahead of me, but I do know who guides me. I look forward to seeing what my new space will feel like. What will the new part of this road look like? There is only one way to find out the answer to the question. That is by moving forward.
Today, I am grateful for the journey through Lent to get to Easter. I travel embracing the life lessons that will be revealed as I continue down my path. This is my hope. This is my joy. This is my strength.
I just returned home from our Maundy Thursday service. We presented the Living Last Supper as we did on Palm Sunday. I heard a line that really touched me this evening. One of the disciples said the phrase, “We will defeat Rome by out-living and out-loving her.”
I was reminded that divine love can overcome anything. I am not talking about the kind of love reserved for emotions or desperate signs of affection (though God can use these things to make His presence known). I am talking about the kind of love that radically forms and transforms the deepest parts of the human spirit. The type of love that realizes itself by actions. When a person loves as Christ loves there is a resolve to be present and to express kindness.
I believe that the heavenly notion of love is most often watered down and resigned to just a “word” that sounds pretty. The reality is that sometimes love is not very pretty. It weathers the storm and survives the rough seas that we experience in our lives. Christ’s love is powerful and is the strongest expression of divine hope that is humanly possible.
Tonight I was reminded of the might and goodness of a holy commitment to the Creator. It goes the distance and radically moves us into faithfulness. Love will move the mountains of regret and anxiety that can sometimes cloud our vision. It is sturdy and confident. Love will overcome the struggles that we face.
Praise be to God for the gift of love. Be transformed by its strength. Be led by its kindness. Be made whole.