29 06 2014

I spend a lot of time thinking –  too much time, some would say.  I’m constantly trying to anticipate the future, process what is, and naturally, evaluate the past.  And the past is where I spend a lot of time – remembering meaningful events, places and people, and recalling experiences had, and insights gained.  This is no doubt the case because my life has been touched by so much in its 53-year span.  I have a pretty good history when it comes to family, friendships, school, work and church; and for that history I am most grateful.

History is important to me not just because of what it was, but because of what it IS; for our history never remains in the past.  Often, perhaps always, history touches, informs, shapes, and in my case, blesses, the present!

As I write these words, I’m at the beach in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, with a small group from the very first church I served as Associate Pastor from 1986-1992.  And those were crazy years in my life!  My wife and I had been married just over a year when I arrived and we were still trying to figure out the whole ‘two shall become one’ thing; our two boys were born in ’87 and ’89 and I was extremely slow figuring out the ‘parenting thing’; and life in a large, inner city congregation often overwhelmed me.  People, personalities, and church politics took their toll, and it was a tough time.  I thought about leaving ministry on more than one occasion, and it was only due the people that God placed in my life that I kept going. 

Thank God for those people! 

Many of them were kids, because I was the Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Ministries and they were the ones with whom I spent most of my time.  But there were countless ‘adults’ as well – people I now know were really my peers — who touched me and my family, and whose friendship I still treasure 22 years later.  Somehow, these people got to know me, even though we really spent very little time together.  And so today, when I’m with them, I feel like our history blankets me with grace, and peace, and love.  They’ve seen me grow, and change, and age, and mature (a little bit?!), and they continue to embrace and accept me for who I am, and for who God is calling me to be.  So when I’m with them, I feel the presence of God. 

As I listen to them joke with one another, and make fun of each others little quirks, I know it is the Holy Spirit behind the smiles and the laughter.  When they share the struggles of their children, struggles that every parent knows hurt more than our own, I see the love of Jesus at work, bringing compassion and comfort.  And in moments of silence, when words need not be spoken, there is an ease that I can only attribute to a holy presence, and a profound experience of ‘thin space.’  

All of this is because history is being made manifest in the present.  The past is kissing our sunburned skin, and the cool waves of days gone by are refreshing our souls.  What would we do without times with people who know everything about us, and love us anyway?  What would we do without friends we only see only on occasion, but whenever we’re together we are able to pick up right where we left off?  What would we do without brothers and sisters who give us glimpses of God, and reveal the powerful and transforming love of Jesus?

For me, history is less about the past, and more about the present; for it is always shaping who I am becoming, and constantly teaching me more about God than any sermon, Sunday School class, or book ever could.  And while my past is far from perfect, I wouldn’t change a thing about anything that was!  

This week, may each of us take a moment to reflect on the people who touched us in the past, and who thus continue to mold and shape the people we are today.  Let’s be grateful for each of them — friends, family members, teachers, colleagues, neighbors, and pastors — and may we never fail to thank them for the rich and beautiful ways that they continue to be present in our lives today, through memories that have the powerful ability to transform us, again, and again, and again!       



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