I am writing this post on June 30th, an interesting date in my life. It was two years ago on this date that my wife of twenty-four years, the one to whom I had pledged to love “for better or worse as long as we both should live” told me that she no longer felt that way and wanted out of her vows. From my perspective, her decision was sudden and unexpected. It took me down a very dark and difficult path. It was a journey that in the making of it I was not certain I would ever get through. The days were long and the lonely nights even longer. In addition, I had a crisis of faith that left me unable to do the work of a pastor which I had given myself to for twenty-five years. Two years ago, June 30th marked the beginning of the most difficult time in my life. My family fell apart and I was questioning whether or not I could continue in my life’s calling.
Then, one year ago on this date, my son Christopher and I set out to move to Portsmouth, Virginia. In between June 30th of 2014 and June 30th of 2015, I had recovered enough of myself and my faith to enter the Disciples of Christ relocation process, which is the way pastors and congregations find each other. Fortunately, I received a call from a church not far from the eastern shore of Virginia. When I accepted the call, my son, Christopher, asked if he could go with me. He had been accepted into two different graduate schools to work toward a Master’s degree in mental health counseling. But after four years of college, he said he was not interested in any more school at that point in his life. He wanted to work at a gym and become a personal trainer. I told him that of course he could come with me and try to do what he wanted with his life. When we sat out on this journey, I wasn’t sure what the future held for either one of us. I had not been in ministry for a year and was worried about whether or not my voice for preaching and my will for leading had returned. Christopher had no source of income, only a desire to achieve a dream.
Now it is June 30th 2016 and life is greatly different for me than it was two years ago. I serve a congregation that has accepted me where I am at in life. I feel very blessed to be with them. I am continuing to rediscover my voice for preaching and the desire to lead in matters of the spirit. I laugh with parishioners often and we were all laughing when my microphone was left on for the final hymn a couple of Sundays ago. I do not make a joyful noise when I sing. Two years ago I thought my laughter had forever left, but it has returned and I am thankful. The church and I are looking forward to the future and what it holds for us together. I have also met someone with whom I am developing a new relationship. A retired firefighter/paramedic she was at Ground Zero in New York hours after 9-11 working to help save lives. She’s a hero in my book. Five years ago, she went through the same kind of marital break-up I did. That we have found each other at this time in our lives is something for which I am very grateful. Christopher is also doing well. Two weeks after we moved to Portsmouth, he got a job at the local YMCA. He works in the exercise room. He teaches tennis lessons and exercise classes. He has some individual clients he works with. And after a year of study and hard work he became a certified personal trainer this week. In addition to his work at the YMCA, he has a second job at the General Nutrition Center (GNC) and plans to go back to school this fall to take some business courses with the desire to manage and possibly own his own gym someday. I heard him tell someone the other day that he loved his work at the Y. I am happy for him and so very proud of him.
The move has not been without some struggles. I miss a lot of my Indiana friends – especially my bicycle riding group. The pictures from our rides together come up on Facebook and I wish I was still pedaling with them. I miss being just twenty minutes from my sister and her family. My sister and I are the last ones from our family of origin and I wish we could spend more time together. And I dearly miss my daughter, Michele. She stayed behind in Indiana to go to college. We text and talk every day, but my heart has a hole in it when she is not around. Christopher is also discovering what life is like as an adult who has bills to pay and obligations to meet. He has made some new friends, but I know he has also missed some of his Indiana friends during this time in his life.
I wanted to write about my personal journey over the past two years for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to provide some hope to those who might be where I was two years ago, in the depths of despair. If they happen across this post, I want them to know there can be a tomorrow that is brighter and fuller than the darkness and emptiness they know today. I know that it is sometimes a hard word to hear, but it is a true one. Joy can be found again, laughter can be rediscovered, love can be felt and happiness can be known. Don’t give up. Don’t become bitter. Don’t think the darkness has the final word. It doesn’t have to.
Second, I wanted to say that I don’t believe that all that has happened to me was part of “God’s plan.” I don’t think God ever intended for my marriage to end and for me to have a crisis of faith that took me to a place that I had never been and didn’t know if I would make it back from. I think God’s heart was grieved as deeply, maybe even more so, than my own. I don’t think there is a divine plan that includes the illness of children, tragic deaths of loved ones or betrayal by people we trust. What I do believe, is that I had enough residue of faith even in the midst of my pain that my heart was open to the grace God extended in new possibilities and new relationships. God didn’t plan my journey for me, but God wasn’t going to leave me alone on the path life had dealt me. With what little faith I still had, God stayed with me and through that sacred companionship I found what life still had to offer. For that I am grateful.
Sometimes with my [D]mergent posts, or even in my preaching, I wonder if I share too much about my own life and journey. I know there is so much more to life than my own story, matters of peace and justice and creation care. Matters about which I care deeply and have given much time to. Yet it is primarily in my own life and experiences that I find and know the Sacred One. The One who empowers me to work on matters larger than myself. I share my story with the hope that others can find that Divine presence in their own lives as well. Two years ago, I thought my life had fallen completely apart and much of the life I knew indeed had. But it is two years later and life is much different. I would rather not have taken this journey, but I had to. I had no choice. But I have endured and found again the grace and beauty that is Life. Peace!