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.

This, That, and Everything in Between!

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.

The Joy Killers

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.

Paralyzed By the Past

There is someone that I know that just celebrated a tremendous milestone.  There is a reason to be happy and give thanks for the many hurdles that had to be crossed in order to reach this amazing goal.  There were tremendous odds to face and mountains to climb, but when all is said and done, he continues to focus on his failures that he encountered along the way.  Never mind that he achieved his prize.  He can’t seem to get past the many times that he made a wrong turn on the road.

The way that this person handles his success leaves me frustrated.  Why can’t he simply see that he made it regardless of how poor his choices were along the way?  The truth is, there are very few things in life in which you can have do overs.  You either achieve a goal, or you fail.

There is no guarantee that we will always make the best choices as we reach for a dream or an objective in life.  We are not perfect.  To assume that we must rise to the standard of perfection is absurd at its best.  We are human, and as such, we sometimes get things wrong.  It is within our nature to veer off the path.  Praise be to God that there is one who can help us return back to the main road when we are far off course.

Today, I give thanks for a God that loves me enough to seek me out and lead me back to the correct path way.  I am grateful that, while I am not perfect, the one who is flawless lives within me.  I pray that we may continue to live as well as we can; to love as deep and rich as we possibly can.  May the God of your understanding bring you peace and happiness as you surrender your imperfections to the One, who makes us whole.

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!

A Moment to Remember

Yesterday afternoon I attended synagogue at Congregation Albert, in Albuquerque.  The service was dedicated to the remembrance of those who were victims of the Holocaust.  I was moved by the gathering of people from many faith traditions as I saw people wearing cleric collars and yamakas.  We were all there to stand united against any act of evil that diminishes voices.

The service itself was an ecumenical response to tragedy and hope that can rise out of devastation.  We were at a synagogue, the Cantata was written by a Christian, the poems and melodies were taken from non-Jewish prisoners, and we said a prayer led by a rabbi.  You can’t get more ecumenical than that.  It was breath taking.  Perhaps my favorite memory of the day was a special moment when six Holocaust survivors came forward and, as the synagogue’s children’s choir sang a wonderful melody, the survivors lit candles in memory of the six million victims who lost their lives as a result of Nazi domination.

There was something extremely profound as we gathered together to acknowledge our loss.  Suddenly, the notion of what it means to be a child of God was larger than the confines that we place around religious divisions.  There are situations and conditions that bring humanity together to struggle with what it means to live with one another and give thanks for all that gifts that are given to us.

My hope for today is that we will no longer be bound by our own theological constructs, but open the doors to learn from each other.  Love is born out of the notion that we are all God’s children and as such, every one of us brings special gifts and insights to the table.  The banquet feast is available for all of us.  Let us stop speaking language that does not confirm the reality that we all find truths that strengthen us and bring us hope.  May the holy presence of God move within us to understand and embrace the spirit of ecumenicalism.

The Last Day Before My First Day!

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.

Resurrection on the Darkest of Days

Today is a day that our church traditionally focuses on the death of Jesus. Our church service is usually called the Service of Darkness. There is typically little, if any, light in the sanctuary. I am drawn to it because it is one of the very few services where we worship in a more contemplative style. The quiet is very loud as we observe the darkest part of our tradition. We remember the times that we have failed to be a people of faith. Remembering these bleak times, we ask forgiveness.

It is with my thoughts looking toward the darkness that I was asked to preside at a memorial service this morning. We celebrated the life of an amazing man. It was a beautiful day here in Rio Rancho and the sun seemed to glow especially bright. As I began the memorial service this morning I thought of the paradox between the mood of the day as it gave way to the observance of death in the evening.

In the morning, I quoted scripture reminding the mourners of the hope of resurrection and the life to come. I spoke of the same death that I would observe in the evening. This one that is God’s gift to the world. With 21st century eyes, I know what happens after the death. There is life and a divine renewal of hope and spirit. We didn’t have to act like it hadn’t happened. Like Paul Harvey, we know the rest of the story.

Those that attended the memorial service needed to hear the rest of the story. They needed the words of hope in that moment. It couldn’t wait until Easter. Unlike our ancient predecessors, we are able to offer the words of the Gospel when everything around us is dark and uninviting. Praise be to God for the gift!

My hope for today is that we not wait to share the good news of God for a particular moment, but we are actively sharing now. I hope that we take the message of love to a world that is starving to hear something that brings strength in times of weakness. Let us remember to continue to live as Christ’s disciples. We can change the world by bringing the light of joy and peace into the darkest of places.

We Will Conquer Rome

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.

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