15 Years

jon carrie bermuda 2001How do you sum up fifteen years? How do you find words to describe an adventure that’s taken you to places you never imagined, that’s helped you to learn things you could never have dreamed of, that’s made some of the things that you longed for seem so inconsequential compared to what you actually got? How do you find words to describe the gift that God has given you?

Fifteen years ago today, on a very hot day in upstate Connecticut, my wife and I were married. Even though it was hot and there were some hiccups along the way, it was a perfect day. The storybook wedding that my wife had always dreamed of took place in a country church in Woodstock, Connecticut followed by a reception under a tent.

If you had told me that day where we would be today, I’m not sure what I would have said. I don’t know that I would have believed you, but I don’t know that I wouldn’t have believed you either. My wife married an engineer. We lived in Connecticut for the first three years of our marriage. I eventually left engineering when God called me to be a pastor.

We’ve hardly been the perfect couple or had the perfect marriage, but we’ve knew early on that the big secret of our marriage would be to make sure Christ was at the center and to make sure that we always worked together. We eventually adopted the phrase “better together” as our motto, realizing that separately we might have been good, but together we were so much better.

I don’t know that I would have believed that we would have three kids, but we do. After I held the first one, I didn’t think I could ever love another human being the way that I loved him, but I did. After having two boys, I wouldn’t have imagined that we would have had a little girl, but we did. I wouldn’t have imagined how crazy, funny, sweet, and unnerving that those kids could be all at the same time.

I never would have imagined that I would have lost my parents at this point in the game either, but I also don’t know what I would have done had I not had my wife by my side through all of the storms. Her empathy and experience in counseling was exactly what I needed to help me through the struggles. Her quiet strength, faith, and trust in God were just a few of the qualities that would be so essential for me to weather these storms.

People who have been married for a long time might look back at their own fifteen year mark and think that it feels like yesterday. I think that we can say the same thing about that day fifteen years ago, that it feels like we blinked and we got here. Time has both flown and crawled at the same time, if that makes any sense. There are days that it feels like all fifteen of those years have passed while there are other days when it feels as if I stepped into a time machine to fast forward to this day. Then I just need to look in the mirror at the face I see staring back at me to know that there was no time machine, but in fact, I can see all fifteen of those years lined out on my face, in my hair, and in my body.

No, I can’t adequately describe fifteen years, but it certainly hasn’t stopped me from trying. The one word that means the most to me in all fifteen of those years is “grace.” If it weren’t for grace, those fifteen years would have never happened. If it weren’t for grace, my wife would never have put up with me. If it weren’t for grace, I wouldn’t be able to wake up every day and realize that no matter how badly things went yesterday, there was today before me, allowing me a second chance.

Today is a day of celebration, and for that I am thankful. God is good and I am blessed. Happy fifteenth anniversary to my wife, I love you. Here’s to many more.

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Gathering Together

This past weekend, my family and I traveled up to Mystic, Connecticut to celebrate the 85th birthday of my wife’s grandmother. Although I got a cold on the way that was eventually shared with others in my family and everyone was a little cranky from all the traveling, the time together was nothing short of celebratory and even a taste of heaven.

Having lost both of my grandmothers when I was in college, having my wife’s grandmother has been special not only to me and my wife, but to our children as well. She turned 85 last week, but she certainly doesn’t show lots of signs of her age. Sure, she’s slowed down a lot in the time that I’ve known her, but she’s as witty and wise as that day. She’s thoughtful and loving as well, thinking so much of others. She’s always quick to send a card for special occasions but also just to encourage people and to let them know that they are being prayed for and thought about by her.

It’s moments like the ones that we spent last weekend that remind me what a celebration we will experience one day when we will be united together with all of those who have gone before us. Thinking about the laughter and the shared memories, the stories, and the fun only give a glimpse of what we will experience when we one day stand before our Savior.

I chuckled during the weekend at the fact that I’m about halfway to 85 myself. I could only look, act, and feel half as good as my grandmother-in-law if and when that day actually arrives for me.

With 85 years of memories, there are lots to share, but I was struck by the fact that many of the memories and stories that were shared were stories of encouragement, love, prayer, and faith. Her children and grandchildren shared of the faith that had been instilled in them through her. She and her husband had put a priority on that faith and it was evident throughout all of the generations represented this weekend.

As the years swiftly move past, it seems that time acts as a filter of sorts, filtering out the less important things so that what remains is what you can hold closest to your heart. That theory was affirmed this weekend. All five of my grandmother-in-law’s children were there along with all twelve of her grandchildren and all but four of her sixteen great-grandchildren.

Sitting in the lobby of the hotel, passersby would stop to observe the whole family, wondering what on earth was going on. What was this crowd that had gathered? So many strangers came up and wished the “birthday girl” a happy birthday. The celebration was infectious and contagious, it was neat to watch the smiles spread on the faces of those walking by, especially when they discovered what the celebration was all about.

The celebration of a life that is lived is usually reserved for after a person passes. I was so glad to be part of such a celebration that took place while we can still enjoy the company and presence of the one being celebrated. I don’t know how many more celebrations that we can have with my grandmother-in-law, but I look forward to every single one, no matter how far we have to travel, how tired we are, and how cranky everyone gets (including me).

I don’t know how long I’ll be here on this earth, but I do know that I’ve watched a number of people go before me who have set the bar high on standards for living. I’m not talking about how much money they made or how monetarily rich they were, but how rich they were in their relationships with others. Those who serve as examples for me have shown me what is valuable and I can only hope and pray that the example I set for my kids and their kids might be a fraction of what’s been passed on to me.

Among the Best

2015-02-27 10.22.3315 years ago today, I made one of the best decisions of my life. Well, technically, the decision was made before that day, but the culmination of that decision happened on that day. On March 3, 2000, I asked my wife to marry me. My life has never been the same since, and for that, I am grateful.

Now, granted, I’ve made a whole lot of bad decisions in my life, but I’d like to think that some of my better decisions might counteract those bad decisions, and this is certainly one of those decisions that I’d like to think that about.

She was still in school at the University of Connecticut at the time, so I had conspired with her roommates. Although there were a number of people present, it was only her roommates and me who were in on the plan. It was not uncommon for us to have game nights with our friends. She wasn’t into the party scene by the time that she got to college, so hanging out with friends was a perfectly acceptable way to spend a Friday night. So, we planned it out that her sister, who was at the same school, and her brother, and a few other close friends would come over to the apartment on that Friday night.

I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do it all so I was talking to one of her roommates who informed me that she was expecting that music would be involved, in other words, she thought that I might sing her a song.

No pressure, right?

Forcing creativity is a bit intimidating, but I concocted the whole plan assuming that it would come at some point. We would be playing a game where I would make up a question and then sing a song that I had written. No problem at all, as long as I could actually get the song written.

I’m generally a planner, so this was all in place about a month or more before the date actually came. I would set aside time every week to work on the song in hopes that it would be finally ready by the time the date came.

But time ticked on. 4 weeks……..3 weeks………2 weeks………1 week…….

It came down to days before this whole thing was to take place and the well continued to be dry…..I mean, BONE DRY! Nothing would come. I couldn’t get anything written, I mean, nothing. It seemed that the harder I tried, the harder it became. At that point, I knew that I needed some diving intervention.

I wasn’t going to settle for using somebody else’s song, it just wasn’t “me” to do something like that. It seems fitting, in retrospect, that the place where I would generally do most of my writing was in the sanctuary of the little Baptist church where my dad served as pastor for nearly 40 years. I would spend many a late night in there, playing the piano or guitar, hoping that the “muse” would find me. I had a key and would come and go as I needed to and I wasn’t afraid of disturbing anyone but the church mice.

So, I prayed and prayed for something that would be acceptable….

And it finally came, on February 29, 2000, just three days before the planned date. Talk about cutting it close. At some point, in the wee hours of the morning, ideas began to flow and they kept coming until I was finally finished.

Over the next few days, I did what I could to polish things up. I practiced until my fingers ached to get it just right. Everything was in place.

At the last minute, things always get even more hectic. This was no exception. M I practiced until my fingers ached to get it just right. Everything was in place.2015-03-02 08.14.43

At the last minute, things always get even more hectic. This was no exception. My wife’s sister decided she wasn’t so certain that she would be coming at the last minute. I told her that she really needed to be there, it was important, but I still never revealed the truth of what would be happening.

The day finally came, after coaxing and convincing, everyone was there, a few showed up a little late, but we were all there. We finally got around to the game and as we were going around playing, my brother-in-law nearly won the game right before my turn. Hadn’t thought of that possibility. My turn came and in the form of a question in the game, I asked my wife to marry me and told her that she needed to listen to a song that I had written.

When all was said and done, she said, “Yes.” We celebrated with our families the next day. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The other day, I found the notebook in which I had written the song. It’s always fascinating to watch the genesis of a song, especially one like this that meant so much to me. Good memories and I am grateful that I have a record of it all.

All along the way during the evening of the engagement, I had her roommates taking pictures to document the moment. I was so glad that we did that. Not long after we were engaged, my mom put together a collage of the pictures surrounding the words of the song that I had written for my wife. This is a picture of it. And in case you can’t read the words, here they are:

 

Your Love Makes Me by Jon Gibson

Chorus

Your love makes me more than I dreamed of

More than I wished for or ever thought I could be.

Your love makes me more than I could ever imagine

Your love is setting me free.

I always knew that God’s promise was true

When He said He’d provide all that I need.

But I never dreamed I could find such a love

That come straight from a story you’d read.

There was a day when I looked at you

And I saw a girl, no more than a friend.

Then something changed, how I looked, how I felt,

And I knew I’d found a love with no end.

Repeat Chorus

In your eyes lie the answers to questions

I ask of myself about who I should be.

You’re always there with the words

That can show me all of the things I can’t see.

A gentle touch or a warm embrace

Can change stormy skies from gray to bright blue.

Nothing could replace or compare to the love

That I am sharing with you.

Repeat Chorus

Bridge

When the seasons grow cold

And the storms cloud our way

When we can’t find the words

Or the right things to say

I will be there for you

I’ll show you my love by the things that I do

‘Cause your love is making me into all I can be.

When I open my eyes to the sunset

And see all the beauty of God’s mighty hand

I realize that the gift I’ve been giv’n

Is a woman intended to complete this man.

I see in you the true reflection of the One

Who once died to make us His own.

I stop and think what the world might be like

If I had to face it alone.

Repeat Chorus

 

Funny to look back at those words 15 years later. Some of them make me cringe at the “cheesy” factor while others seem as appropriate today as they were back then.

Today I am grateful for that day and the outcome of it. I’m glad that it turned out the way that it did and I’m looking forward to celebrating this day again and again, along with all of the other days that we can share together.

I love you, Carrie!

The Eve of the Eve

It’s the Eve of Christmas Eve and I can feel the excitement starting to bubble up within me. There is anticipation of waking up on Christmas morning to see what’s under the tree. There is an excitement in me to take part in a Christmas Eve worship experience with my church. There is excitement in me to see how my kids drink in all that they will experience over the next few days.

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved Christmas. I would hardly sleep on Christmas Eve as my excitement was palpable and uncontainable. I would wake up while everyone else was sleeping and start organizing the presents into piles, making sure that everything was in order for when everyone was awake. I love the smells of Christmas, the sounds of Christmas, the memories of Christmas, and all that Christmas means to me and to you.

Every year that goes by, it gets a little harder to get into the mood. Life has a tendency of getting in the way. Whether it’s my own health issues or someone in the family’s health issues, whether it’s a tragic loss in my community or a loss within my family or church, somehow the challenges that we face in life can creep into our celebration and do everything they can to steal our joy.

I need constant reminders of what Christmas really means, and I’m a pastor. I can read the birth account in Luke, I can sing the songs, I can plan out the services, but I still need to constantly keep before me the fact that my celebrations are somewhat backwards. Why do I get gifts when it’s Jesus’ birthday? Why am I not focusing more on the fact that I received a gift for which I should be eternally grateful?

Today, there will be no running around doing last minute shopping. I’m hoping I won’t have to go to many stores at all. I’ve tried even to avoid some of the roads around the mall in fear of being impacted by those whose heads are mulling over their own “To Do” lists. I’ve taken care of most everything on my “To Do” lists, so I hope to just get ready.

While I certainly feel a sense of loss without my parents here, the holidays have a way of reminding me of all of the great times that we shared together. I can’t help but smile as I think about my mom playing her Christmas records on the record player while she was cooking or baking in the kitchen. I can’t help but think about my father’s booming voice as we sang Angels We Have Heard on High or O Little Town of Bethlehem or some other Christmas hymn. I remember all of the Christmas traditions that we had in our family and I want to do my best to make sure that my kids have traditions that they can carry on as well.

True, no one really celebrates the eve of Christmas Eve, but I can be the first. If it means that I remember a little bit better what I’m celebrating, then I’ll do whatever it takes!

300

Nope, this isn’t a post about Spartans or the next movie based on one of Frank Miller’s graphic novels. It’s simply a celebration, of sorts, of my 300th post. 300 posts, that’s nearly one for every day of the year. 300 posts may be considered an awful lot of babbling for a blogger, depending on what it is that they write about.

Throughout my life, I have been blessed with people who aren’t afraid to call me out. I can’t say that it’s always been fun, but it’s been worth it in the long haul because it has generally led to growth. Growth is good, if we really want it, but I have found far too many people who are completely satisfied to stay where they are. If I’m really honest with myself, I am one of those people at times. Growth means movement, it means progression, it means going forward, and that’s not always a comfortable thing to do. In fact, it’s usually pretty hard work.

I haven’t set up shop here on this blog to fill an inner need to be liked and followed. Sure, it’s nice to gain more followers, to know that you are being read by more and more people, but that’s not the driving factor.

I’ve generally been the kind of person who learns from the mistakes of others rather than feeling the need to make those same mistakes myself. Nope, can’t say that I’ve never made mistakes, and there’s no shame in that. Mistakes can lead to some of the greatest growth a person can experience, but if you can gain that same wisdom and growth by watching the experiences of others, is there really a need to go through it yourself?

This blog has caused me to look at myself in greater detail, through a stronger microscope. It’s caused others to look at me in a similar fashion. It’s not always comfortable and easy to put myself out there, admitting my own faults, but if I can’t admit that they’re there, how do I expect to move forward at all?

I’m grateful to have been here for 300 posts. I’m grateful that people have taken the time to read, to comment, to like, and to share what I’ve written. My hope and prayer is that growth can happen as we reflect on who we are, that I can grow as I begin to understand myself better and better every day.

Thanks for reading and following. Thanks for helping me keep asking the questions, keep searching for answers, and keep growing.

10 Years

2014-05-30 04.07.0810 Years ago today, I stood at the front of a church and had a group of men surround me, lay hands on me, and ordain me into full-time vocational ministry as a pastor in a Baptist church in Asheville, North Carolina. It was an emotional day for me. My parents and my brother had made the trip down to Asheville and my father preached at the service. This marked a major career shift for me as I left my engineering career behind me and looked ahead to where I had felt God had been leading and calling me.

In the musical “Rent,” the characters tried to measure a year and decided that they would do it in love. How do I measure a decade? 10 years? 10 years, 3 churches, 3 children, 2 lost parents, 2 states, 2 denominations, and 1 seminary degree later, I’m still standing. My ordination was recognized by my current denomination just a few months ago. What I do today looks very different from what I was doing 10 years ago in some ways, and very much the same in other ways. The growth that I have seen in myself over this past decade can only be attributed to what God has done in my life. I hope that others who have walked this past decade with me have seen that same growth.

There have been times that I’ve looked back and said, “What was I thinking?” There are still days that come here and there when I wonder whether I should be doing what I’m doing, I think that’s natural for all of us. When I stop to really consider it though, those thoughts don’t last for a long time, I do my best to gently sweep them aside to look at the things in front of me that confirm my calling, that help me to remember why I do what I do and how success is measured in the eyes of God versus the eyes of the world.

It hasn’t been an easy road by any marks, but easy is not always best. What God has shown me and what I have seen over this past decade has managed to both astound me and horrify me, and probably so many other things in between those two.

I’ve measured many milestones in my life over the past few years. Some of those milestones have been good and celebratory while others have given me cause to stop and reflect, ask questions, and even weep. If milestones help me to reflect or lead to growth, I guess I can’t complain, and if I do, I’m not sure who will listen.

If you had told me 10 years ago where I would be today, I’m not so sure that I would have believed you. My hope is that 10 years from now, I won’t be quite as surprised by my circumstances, not because they haven’t changed or because there hasn’t been growth, but because I’ve gotten used to expecting the unexpected.

I’m grateful that God has used me these past 10 years and I know that I’ve made a difference, regardless of whether that difference has been great or small. I hope and pray that I can continue to be used to make a difference. I might not make a lot of money, I might not achieve fortune and fame, but if God can use a broken vessel like me, than that’s a pretty good case against atheism…..in my opinion.

Celebration Time

celebrationI don’t think we celebrate enough. I mean, I know that every time there’s a holiday or special occasion, we tend to party it up, but I think we close down the festivities all too soon. Not only that, but I think we sometimes celebrate the wrong things. We can easily impersonalize any situation, taking away the real meaning in the celebration.

It’s interesting to read the Old Testament and realize how long certain things would last. Feasts and festivals would sometimes last for a week. Forget about the 24 hour party, we’re talking a full week here. I often wonder what that would look like for us, here in the 21st century. Are we capable of stopping and slowing down for long enough to be able to party for THAT long? Would we be able to step away from our phones, our laptops, our tablets, our TVs for that long without getting bored, without getting completely nuts over our utter “lack of information” for a full week?

Lately, I’ve really been focusing on embracing moments which need to be celebrated. In those moments, it’s really easy for others to come in and steal your joy. People can easily push you out of those places of celebration. Maybe it’s because they’re jealous, maybe it’s because they’re impatient, maybe it’s because they’re just not happy. Regardless of the “why” of it, it’s important not to lose your joy in those moments.

A friend of mine had a birthday the other day and we spent some time talking and shooting pool. It reminded me of how simple celebrations can go a long way. We don’t need all kinds of fanfare and decor in order to celebrate, we can do it in simplicity, but do we really do it? Do we stop long enough to enjoy the moments of celebration?

I’m growing tired of focusing on all of the things that are not so easily changed. There’s a place for that in our lives, to improve our areas of growth, but how about celebrating our strengths and celebrating the victories and milestones that we achieve……for more than a minute? Imagine what that would look like if we actually focused on the positives more than the negatives. Imagine how different we would be as people. Imagine how much more pleasant we would be to be around.

I want to celebrate, and not just for one day. Next week, Christians will celebrate Easter, the day that Christ rose from the dead. If we can wade through the bunnies and baskets, eggs and candy, we might actually find Jesus in the midst of it all. We’ll take him out, sing some songs, and celebrate for just one day, and when it’s all over, will it have made a difference to us? How will Easter Sunday translate on the Monday after? Will we still be celebrating then?

If our celebrations don’t make a difference in who we are, what value did they hold? If they don’t afford us time to be reenergized or rejuvenated, if they don’t afford us some amount of meaning other than a few hours off, is it really worth celebrating?

Make your celebrations count. Remember why you’re celebrating whatever it is that you’re celebrating. Remember past the cakes and the parties, the gifts and the gatherings. Remember the joy that’s supposed to come from celebration, and let it last for more than just one day.

200

200th postI’ve been here in my new surroundings on WordPress for about 10 1/2 months.  Today is my 200th post.  It took me about 4 years to get to that number with my old blog, so I feel like it’s been a good year (almost).  I’ve been writing as often as I can, taking breaks when necessary.  I’ve been doing my best to write about the things that matter most to me and things that, hopefully, matter to other people as well.

I’m looking forward to celebrating more milestones along the way.  Thanks for following me, for reading what I write, and for taking the time to enter my world through words.  Keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

An Anniversary In Heaven

tony and irene wedding46 years ago today, my parents were married.  They had met a little less than a year before, on January 23, 1967 at a roller skating rink with a church group.  They were engaged on July 4, 1967, and then on January 13, 1968, they were married.  This is their first anniversary together in heaven.

The road to my parents’ marriage was not an easy one.  Both of them had difficulties during their years of growing up.  Abusive or alcoholic parents.  Poverty.  There were certainly more difficult upbringings than they had, but there were simpler ones as well.

My grandma, my dad’s mom wasn’t fond of my mom.  He was the youngest, the baby, and it was probably difficult for her to find anyone who could meet her standards.  My dad was thrown out of the house for dating my mom.  He lived at the seminary.  My mom typed his seminary papers.  They persevered.

In Matthew 22:30 Jesus says, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”  While there isn’t a need for marriage in heaven (the bride and Bridegroom will be together), that doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t know each other as we did on earth.  Our celebrations will be different there, they will center around the ultimate wedding feast.

So, there’s really no need for them to celebrate their marriage to each other, just their marriage to the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, but it’s a celebration.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them or miss them.  Today, I celebrate them together.  There is sadness for me, but not for them.  There is loss for me, but not for them.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.  I hope you’re celebrating well.  Thanks for finding each other, because you did, I’m here.  I miss you and love you.  I’ll see you again someday…..