California Dreaming

On an early fall morning in 1996, I stood with a dear friend, Suzanne, watching the antics of our neighborhood’s children when my 4 year-old son ran up to us with an important announcement. Poised wide-legged, chest puffed and wearing his new Ninja filename-1Turtle Halloween costume he proclaimed to the world, “When I grow up, I am going to be Ninja Turtle Michelangelo and I am going to stop all the bad guys!” Not requiring any sort of response or advice about his new career decision, he ran on.

Turning to Suzanne I asked, “When do I break his heart? When do I tell him he cannot be a superhero? When do I tell him he will probably grow up to be something practical – maybe an accountant like his Dad? ” Suzanne whispered, “Don’t tell him Jean. The world will tell him soon enough.” Quietly that morning I prayed that Mark would find work when he was grown that brought him joy and fulfillment as well as a means of support.

Several years later during a family vacation in California, we strolled through a park overlooking the ocean. Mark pursued the dozens of seagulls grouped along our path determined to catch one of them. His whole body squealed with delight each time the birds took flight. Catching his breath on a bench before returning to the hunt, Mark made another announcement. “Someday I want to live here! When I grow up I am moving to California!”

Now, 15 years later, Mark no longer wears a cape or carries a plastic sword but his desire to right the wrongs of this world did not fade. He involves himself in organizations and causes that raise people up and him in the process. He lives his life with kindness and fairness even when the world is not always kind or fair to him. In many ways I see him living the superhero life he dreamed of as a child though it looks very different than what either of us pictured.

I cannot help but grin as I tell you that Mark is a newly graduated accountant from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is preparing to start his first job in San Francisco next month. He knew business was a practical IMG_1078degree but had difficulty imagining his life as an accountant. His job opportunity in California is not a traditional accounting job path recommended by his school advisers but it unfolded magically and effortlessly for him. The expression, “It was meant to be” comes to mind. He is excited to get started. I am brimming with joy for him and the new life he is creating but also experiencing worry, sadness and grief at his leaving.

As I summon the courage to kiss my son good-bye before he boards the plane that will fly him to his future, I call on my faith to steady me. My faith over the years has grown into a solid platform from which I can stand firmly and look around. From that platform of faith I can see the happenings of life unfold without being bowled over by them. My body feels the multitude of physical and emotional pain that life brings, but my soul knows I can stand against the current. I have emotions, but I am not my emotion. I have a body, but I am not my body. I am a soul encased in a physical body, learning and experiencing this world but not overwhelmed by it. It is a source of inner strength that comes when I let go of expectations and simply have faith.

I have come to believe that God wants all of our dreams to come true. He hears the desires of our hearts and wants them to be realized. So many times this world derails us. Society often tells us we are not good enough or brave enough to achieve our dreams or face life’s challenges. What if we placed our hopes and dreams in God’s hands without attempting to imagine how those desires should come to be? It is not an easy or simple task but I believe that by putting the longings of our hearts into God’s hands without expectations, we exercise our faith in God and that faith forges the path for God to enter our lives in spectacular and unexpected ways.

Dear God,

Thank you for hearing and caring about the desires of my heart. Help me to let go of how I think my dreams should become reality. Please show me the path to follow and give me strength to bear the pain of the journey. Also dear Lord, please give me the clarity to recognize hopes and dreams realized even when they appear in unexpected ways. Thanks again – for everything!

Love, Jean

Jeremiah 32:27  “Behold, I am the LORD; the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for me?”

Don’t Worry, Be Happy… Or Not

So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
John 16:22

This Sunday Intern Pastor Brandon Newton preached on the story of Paul and Silas’ first arrest (See Acts 16:16-40). The men were falsely accused, stripped naked, beaten with wooden rods and then imprisoned. The underground dungeon that served as a Roman prison would have been dark and dirty. I can only imagine the stench, the fear, the pain and the indignation. Wounded and chained in the dark it would be understandable if they had given in to fear and hopelessness. And maybe even anger.

All this and they were innocent. All this for a God who had seemingly abandoned them. All this pain and misery to save people who were ungrateful and cruel.

I would have been very angry indeed.

And yet, Paul and Silas spent their time in jail praying and singing hymns. They chose to praise God even in the midst of a situation far worse than most of us can imagine. At first it’s easy to think that Paul was exceptional. That God endowed him with some sort of super human ability to seek joy in even the most appalling situations.

But the truth is that we all have this ability to choose joy, to make a conscious decision to be joyful even in the midst of tragedy. Joy is not happiness. Happiness is an emotion that is, by its very nature, fleeting. We get a promotion, we go on a vacation, we get engaged, we have a baby and we are happy. Everything seems right in the world; life is smooth sailing for the time being.

Of course, no one can be happy all the time. The car breaks down, work get stressful, we lose a loved one, someone gets sick and we are no longer happy. We are stressed, frustrated, sad, mad, hurt and confused. And that’s okay. The command was never to be happy all the time. Paul and Silas were not happy. They were joyful, and that is something altogether different.

Joy is a choice. It is not about getting rid of all our problems so that we can have a perfect life. It is about trusting God in spite of the fact that we live in a fallen world and things are decidedly imperfect. Joy is the knowledge that even in the midst of hardship, God is with us always and that the things we endure can and will be used for a divine purpose, even if we don’t understand how, or why. Joy is deep in the soul and cannot be shaken by the circumstances of our lives.

Of course, this kind of deep, abiding joy comes only when we are walking closely with God, when we are willing to trust Him implicitly in all things. It is an adventure, a leap of faith… a promise. Will you choose joy today?

Happy Thanksgiving?

Editor’s note: Thanks to Chris Cairo for this Thanksgiving reflection. 

Recently I was traveling with customers who were from London England, and in discussing schedules the fact that Thanksgiving was coming up prompted the question from one of my English friends:

“Exactly what is Thanksgiving, and what are you giving thanks for?”

I started with a poor summary of the history of the pilgrims, but ended with the simple thought ‘we give thanks to God for all He has given us’.

I know my friend who asked the question is not a church-goer, as we have discussed religion before, and the English are not very religious. The conversation moved on, but I was glad to have had the opportunity to bring God into the conversation, even if just for a moment.

Hill cross --Advent program--from Julie McCarty--smaller with sigWhat about on Thanksgiving Day? Do we bring God into our conversation? …maybe just for a moment??

Psalm 95:1-2; “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”

It sure sounds like Thanksgiving should be joyful…and last longer than a moment.

Thursday, how will you give thanks to God? Will it be for a moment while someone says Grace before you eat? Or will it be all day? Everyday?

If you take the time to think about all you have been given, you will find you have much to be thankful for. Thanking God, is the least we can do.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris

Chris Cairo is a member of Easter Lutheran’s Vision Board.