Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankful for the past, confident in the future

Driving through the sage dotted high desert of northern New Mexico brought a flood of memories to our minds. It was late at night and soft-filtered light of a nearly full moon only occasionally broke through the high cumulus clouds. After leaving Albuquerque's busy freeways and bright lights, we were cruising along a very familiar route on the eve of Thanksgiving.

Every year on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving, Judy, Kresta, Melissa and I would hop in the family sleigh - whatever it happened to be that year - crank up Christmas music and drive through the sparsely populated landscape of the New Mexico desert toward Los Alamos to spend Thanksgiving with the Wallins. Steve, Julie, Mark and Scott had become close family friends, the kind you can pick up with right where you left off. God had allowed our paths to cross during the first months we lived in Las Cruces and from the first meeting, we knew we would be fast friends.

Sometimes, the laughter would be so intense we would be crying. At other times we would drift into deep theological discussions or the challenges of raising adolescent children. There was always a very competitive game of cards ("big strong men" versus the "Little women"), a calorie burning, L-triptophan clearing hike through the Anasazi Indian ruins at Bandalier National Monument, and always a huge meal produced by committee.

All those memories have been dancing around in our minds as, once again, we have spent yet another New Mexico Thanksgiving (replete with hot green chile in the turkey dressing).

Usually those Thanksgiving trips included the short trip down the hill, past native American pueblos and pinon forests to the historic and beautiful city of Santa Fe. This year was no exception although this time Judy and I found ourselves making this drive the day after Thanksgiving and by ourselves. We were headed to the wedding rehearsal dinner of another dear and old friend of mine. Gil Pinon was the Youth Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Las Cruces while I was the Senior Pastor at Northminster Church there. Somehow, we struck up another of those lasting friendships. After all these years, Gil was getting married and he had somehow convinced his bride to be to ask me to perform the ceremony.

As we drove this familiar route, we marveled at the rich colors of a New Mexico sun beginning to set over the tall mesas and jagged, rocky outcroppings. The golden late afternoon rays of the sun had turned the mountains a deep burnt orange and gradually turning to purple. The sky was a deep aqua blue turning to an indescribably beautiful salmon color as sky met horizon. In some ways, we felt we had never left the Land of Enchantment. This was not only familiar but incredibly nostalgic as we relived all these visceral moments. This land had been our home for over 13 years, and in some ways, it still felt like home.

All these memories of the past have caused us to remember with gratitude that today, Judy and I are who we are because of the people and the places and the experiences God has allowed in our lives. Friends, moments in time, places, sights, even smells (there is nothing like the smell of smoke from a wood fire kindled with pinon pine or red chile and corn tortillas wafting through the crisp, clear air) all have caused us to be grateful that God had allowed us to experience all these things and people because they have all had a part in shaping us.

At the wedding for Gil and Dana yesterday (which by the way had the most beautiful music performed by members of the New Mexico Symphony)I spoke to them of Jesus' first miracle - the turning of water into wine. The guests at the wedding in Caana were surprised that this wine Jesus had provided at the end of the party, was the best. And that is what the Lord is always in the business of doing: producing for us the new wine of God's love in our lives and surprising us with the fact that the best is always saved for last. In other words, in Christ, God's love doesn't run out or cheapen over time, it just keeps getting better and better. The Lord is in the business of turning ordinary into extraordinary blessing as we experience the abundance of his grace and love.

And so I am thankful. I am thankful for the paths and the places and the people who have been a part of my journey thus far. They are all special gifts of God's love and grace that have come to us because we belong to him through Christ. Yet God never wants us to simply live in the past because there are always new horizons, new blessings, and new expressions of his love and grace that he has saved for now.

Now, this morning as I write this before going to church, the sun is just beginning to rise over Santa Fe Mount Baldy signaling the beginning of a new day, new opportunities, new challenges, new wine. "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; His steadfast love endures forever."

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