The Shame Game

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!

The Revelation of God

I’m not talking about the big loud thunder crashes, lightning bolts, and dramatic revelations.  I mean the kinds where God may quietly reveal His presence to you throughout the day.  It can be in the form of a phone call from a friend, the kindness of a passing stranger, or even a smell or picture that calls to mind God’s awesome presence.  Some call it a coincidence, but I call it divine intervention.  Whatever it is, we are left with the amazing awareness that something greater than us calls us to be a part of that which is bigger than our own little corner of the world.

Many times in life God has set me on a journey.  Many times I have come to appreciate God’s voice located in the still, small, silent discoveries along the way.  Things that may not appear to be much at first glance, but in the end are just as important as the big things.  They are the wonderful little nuggets of knowledge that we glean from our desire to grow in God’s will for our lives.

We simply have to be open to the quiet discoveries along the way.  Reflect and know that the Creator continues to pour blessings in your life.  While they are subtle, they are incredibly profound and important.  All that is required is a willing heart.

Today, I give thanks for the times where God is undeniably present.  I also give thanks for the times when I must be still and allow God’s love to quietly flow through me and around me.  These times of peace lead to times of strength and confidence in the awareness of spirit.  May we leave ourselves open to God’s breath to speak hope and healing into our lives.

How Amazing Is That?

My wife and I were walking past an exhibit at a craft show yesterday and a phrase caught my attention.  Since I don’t know the author, I feel like I am not at liberty to quote it.  What captivated me was the incredible intimacy of the writing.  The sentence reaffirms the unique and incredible bond between a mother and her children.  There is a place that I as a man and father will never be able to travel, nor will ever be able to experience.  A heartbeat from the inside out.

I first thought of my own mother and was overcome with how much I miss her.  I then thought about the love of God that has known us since we were created.  How intimately and thoroughly the Holy Spirit knows me.  Think about it.  This One who is the creator started the beating of our hearts.  Like the author of Psalm 139, “This knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me that I can’t fathom it” (vs. 6 CEB).

The reality is that we are linked together by God’s incredible knowledge and love for us.  It is in our very DNA.  We long for a relationship with the One who has known us before our mothers had a clue that we were being formed.  How amazing is that?  Again, I am speechless.  For those who know me, that is an awesome wonder to behold.

It is very easy to take for granted our relationship with God without considering the incredible and unique nature of the divine love which has been poured out over us from our humblest of beginnings. Sometimes, when we are prompted by signs, we remember (and hopefully give thanks) for this amazing gift that was given to us before our first heartbeat, before our first breath, even before our first memory.  This Holy Presence has been with us; and will continue to stay with us.  Again I ask, “How amazing is that?”

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.

Giving Thanks for Friends

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?

It All Begins With a Blank Slate

If only life were as simple as the title of this post suggests.  We all start with a blank slate and write our own story.  The truth is, our slates are colored by others in ways that are sometimes affirming and sometimes harmful.  When we finally become aware that we have any agency what so ever in our narrative, we are the result of many people who have etched on our souls ways and processes by which we respond to the world.  Our stories are not our own.

As we get older we begin to assume responsibility for our actions and take over the role of artist and creator in our lives.  While we may not be able to erase those parts of our slate that have wounded us, we can paint broad strokes over those unhealthy places and reclaim those parts for ourselves.  Many of us don’t realize until much later that we are capable of framing the portraits of our lives.  We allow others to continue to wield power over places that should be ours.  Our freedom is found in reclaiming our own voice.

“Now wait just a minute,” you say.  “Isn’t God the author of our stories?  The one who paints on this blank slate?”  Well, yes, but we must claim and share our part in the process.  God is the one who holds our hand steady as we paint.  The vision of what we shall put on the canvas is created by God.  We must be still and capture the picture that will become the painting.  It is up to us to get the work done.  To assume that we have no part in the creation of the work is to diminish our role in the process of being human.

I hope that we continue to pray to the one who guides our hands and create the work of the master of all works.  May our painting reflect the incredible love of our amazing God.  While the slate is not blank, it can capture the brilliance of the creator of life.  We embrace our divine inspiration with the hope that our work will reflect the love of the Holy One.

The Moment We Embrace Change

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.

I Come to This with Fear and Trepidation

Today is Ash Wednesday, and I have made a commitment to write a post each day throughout the season of Lent.  I have to admit that I enter this with a ton of fear on my shoulders.  I have not been consistent in my posts, so why should I change my wicked ways now?  I hope to be able to follow through with this.

Another fear that I carry is that I will not have enough material to form meaningful sentences.  In other words, I am not sure that I have anything substantial to say.  I want to write about things that matter.  What if my writing is not of good quality?  This is a major concern with which I consistently struggle.

So the first of my Lenten writings is acknowledging my fears.  It is crucial for me to simply own up to the fact that “adding in” is sometimes a lot harder than “giving up.”  Adding in requires making room for reflection and discernment.  Planning becomes a necessary component of who we are.  In other words, we must be intentional by making our time an important part of our day.  I am not sure that I will be able to write at the same time of the day each and every day, but I do know that as I plan each day, I will include time to write in my day.  Some people need to plan a consistent time, but that is something I don’t think will work for me.

Now that I have shared some of my concerns, I can look toward the process of writing.  I start the journey and look forward to sharing what God continues to do in my life.  I hope to create a space that will challenge me and inspire me to find wonderful new ways to grow in the joy and love of our amazing God.

Fear is a Part of Life

I have to admit something right off the bat. I am a pastor and I struggle with fear. I have heard it said that a pastor should never allow fear to enter his/her life. Faith should be enough to carry a “person of the cloth” through any situation. Well, if only it were that easy.

The truth is fear is a reality that seems to be present in my life and makes its way into my psyche without warning and without any introduction. This past week my youngest son was admitted into the hospital and had his fifth port-o-cath removed and his sixth placed in a new position in his body. For some reason I had a tremendous amount of anxiety regarding this his eleventh or twelfth surgery (I’ve lost count). I kept thinking that the Spirit had protected my son in the past, but another procedure is really tempting the fates.

I did the one thing that I never do; I lost control of my emotions. I am very good at keeping things in check except when it comes to my family. I tend to love much deeper and feel things much stronger where my wife and children are concerned. So, it should have been expected that fear would be present in most aspects of my life. In other words, the “What Ifs?” were killing me.

As I was feeling overwhelmed, a Bible verse came to me. The text reminded me that my son would be protected and that he would be okay. I felt a sense of relief wash over me as I claimed the promise found in this special verse. While it did not wipe away all of my anxiety it did bring me a sense of peace.

I thought about the crazy notion that a pastor does not, or should not fear. I say balderdash to that idea. The truth is, we are human. We can get angry, happy, sad, resentful, etc… The issue is not that we feel emotions, but whether we let our emotions become our god. Notice I put the little “g” and not the big “G”. That is the constant struggle with fear. While it is normal to experience feelings, nothing should replace the source of strength to which we are called. For me, I reclaimed my strength in a verse from scripture. I didn’t go from frazzled to fantastic, but I did reclaim the source of hope that holds me up when my path becomes uncertain.

My prayer is that we all my return back to our source of hope, light, and life when we struggle. May you encounter that Divine spark and let it illuminate your soul to penetrate the darkness. It all comes down to one word; trust. This five letter word filled with a ton of meaning.

What will be your God? The choice is yours to decide.

We Know What We Know

First of all, I have to say that I am a very grateful pastor as I have learned how loving and caring my congregation truly is.  We have been inundated by prayers, food, and words of hope and inspiration to carry us through what continues to be our longest hospital stay to date.  Caeleb will be in the hospital for a full month on Monday.  Within the month, we have been discharged twice only to return to the hospital the next day with complications from a knee bleed that will not stop.  Specialists can’t even stop the bleeding.  They try and try, but without much success.

I must admit that this journey has been very difficult for many different reasons.  It is hard seeing my son in pain and not be able to stop it.  We as parents are “supposed” to fix problems.  When we get to the point that we can’t relieve his pain there is a feeling of absolute powerlessness.  Faith becomes the only option by which to express hope.

I look at faith as part of my life intertwined into the very fabric of day to day living.  I have faith that medicines will work, or I have faith that a certain treatment is the one that will restore my son’s health, or I have faith that God will show up in the middle of all of the chaos and create beauty.  I must say, I cannot separate science from my expression of the Divine.  The merging of both worlds is a rich tapestry of both faith and reason that provides a holistic approach to who I am in my finite humanity and that part of me that is connected to Spirit. Together, that which is seen and unseen fills me with the love and knowledge of something that is light years bigger than who I am in this world.

I see God’s work being done by the love and care the nurses on our unit offer to my family.  Their efforts reinforce the holistic identity of who we are by engaging the spiritual aspect of care as they utilize scientific methodology to provide answers to medical issues.  It is an incredible and necessary dependence on various ways that we can validate the existence of both science and the Divine.  The truth is, sometimes we can’t measure what we know to be true.  It is simply profound and present.

So, today I give thanks for the marriage of science and faith and how they come together to make life complete.  I am grateful for the men and women who continue to make life better for my son and seek ways that not only provide him with medical wholeness, but also feed his spirit.  I give thanks for the many people who touch our lives with material and spiritual gifts.  Your service and your compassion are amazing!

And I say, “Thanks be to God.”

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