I love New Mexico. I am a proud New Mexican. My family, both sides, have been in New Mexico for centuries. New Mexico is my home and New Mexicans are my family. I have read the stories, I have seen the rankings, I realize that New Mexico is seen as a poor state, a state that is dangerous and a state that is often an afterthought by most Americans. I see the news that talks almost everyday about another murder, violent crime or other bad news. However I also see a New Mexico that was witnessed these past few days, a New Mexico that sometimes if not seen but that I think speaks to the heart of NM more than any bad news there is.
Last week there were 2 events that shook the state, in particular the city of Albuquerque. The first was a 4-year-old little girl, Lilly Garcia, who lost her life in a tragic, senseless instance of road rage. Another was the next day when a beloved officer, Daniel Webster, for the Albuquerque Police Department was shot and left in critical condition. It could be easy to leave the story there of 2 awful events that left families and a community shaken and hurting. It could be easy to talk about how dark a place New Mexico is, how crime ridden it is. I am sure that those events will lead New Mexico to making another “bad list” or ranking. However, that is not where the story is, nor is it what New Mexico would allow to be defined by.
Instead what came from the ashes of these events was a community that gathered that said, “this would not define us”. A GoFundMe account was started for Lilly’s family with the hopes of raising $10,000 to help with funeral costs. As of writing this post the fund has raised over $79,500! Along with that money there were local businesses that stepped up to take care of all expenses for Lilly’s funeral. For Officer Webster who is still in the hospital , not out of the woods yet (Update: Officer Webster passed away on Oct. 29), there was an offer by Papa John’s to donate all profits from yesterday’s business to Officer Webster to help cover costs. What happened? New Mexicans had lots of pizza yesterday, that is what happened. I waited 4 hours for 2 pizzas that would normally take 30 minutes to be ready. It was not because Papa John’s was not ready, they had a full staff on hand at the store I went to in Rio Rancho. That was not the only Papa John’s to be filled with orders and people, as I scanned Twitter Is saw pictures of crowds, crowds that seemed more fitting to be waiting for a new iPhone than a pepperoni pizza. By the end of the day $6,000 was raised for Officer Webster. This, how New Mexicans, respond to tragedy is what I see is at the heart of New Mexico.
I have been blessed to serve as a manager, video coordinator and now chaplain for the University of New Mexico Men’s Basketball team for the past 16 years. I can tell you there is nothing like a loud, crazy game in The Pit. However, I can also tell you that being a Lobo goes deeper than a basketball team. I love the Lobos, as many others do, because I love New Mexico. Being a Lobo is about being a New Mexican, about being proud of what New Mexico is. When the Lobos win, New Mexico wins, a state people often forget about, a state I love, is seen in a positive light, in a way I see my state. That is what drives 10,000 Lobo fans to Las Vegas in March to cheer on the Lobos in the Mountain West Tournament. It is not just the chance to see the Lobos cut the nets once again, it is about representing and being proud of the state we love.
I planted a church in New Mexico not because it was simply where I lived, or it was strategic to plant in NM, but because it is the place I truly love. I want to see, what I believe to be, the greatest news in human history, the gospel of Jesus Christ, take root in the people I love, the people here in New Mexico.
We are a family in New Mexico. We love one another and the state we call home. New Mexico is when locals are excited to talk about the beauty of the Balloon Fiesta or the deliciousness that is green chile (and only green chile from New Mexico, sorry Colorado but no). New Mexico is when we as a community celebrate our heritage, our history and the potential of our future.
New Mexico is when a community does not let pain, crime, trials, or tragedy define us. Rather New Mexico is when a community rises up, unites and loves one another as a family. That is the New Mexico I know and love and why I am proud to say, we are New Mexico.