There was a moment last May when I stopped a quarter mile short of finishing a marathon. I am tempted to call it a bad decision but it was not any sort of conscious decision that I made. It just happened. The cause was a cobblestone intersection which happened to be raised 6 inches from the road feeding into it.
I would venture a guess that most of you sometime in your lives have climbed 6 inches in elevation and I would also guess you didn’t even notice that you had. But at the end of 26 miles of running, 6 inches may as well have been 5000 feet. My calves tightened up, which lit off the pain sensors which shot up my spine to my brain with an urgent message, “We done.” (You read that right. Pain sensors don’t use proper grammar.)
I did finish the race of course. I stood there for a few seconds and stared at the finish line, realizing that it was kind of stupid to run 26 miles and not run the .2 to reach a finish line that would simultaneously qualify me for Boston, gain me a 7th place spot in one of our state’s more prestigious races and be a 5 minute personal best.
I sprinted to the finish line.
There were other moments this year when the going got just as tough. Life’s hardships got too constant and too great. The littlest of situational elevations stopped me short and made me want to quit. These were not any large crises or shocking life events. Those are quite bearable and even understandable. Instead, there was just the daily drudge of living life in this cold, lonely world with people who just don’t seem to understand themselves or this God of love who lavishes us with mercy. Before you assume I am casting blame, know that I count myself as one of those. So life gets to the point where even one little bump in the road can stop you short of the goal.
The most notable happened a month or so before that marathon. There was one very dark day in late March when it all came crumbling down upon me. The circumstances of that day are not too relevant or even appropriate to share. But there was a day spent crying, screaming and shaking uncontrollably for hours on end. All of that was followed by a brief moment, right around 6pm when suddenly I realized I was done being a pastor.
That was a great moment. I stopped crying and started laughing because the whole thing was pretty ironic. I stopped dwelling on the past and starting dreaming for the future. In 10 minutes time I had recalled every “Help wanted” sign or ad I had seen and every conversation with very successful friends whose employers were looking for someone with my skill set. I would make more money. We could buy a house. We could refresh our 401(K)’s. We could actually have health insurance! I would have colleagues. I would have friends. I would have career mentors and advisers but most of all, I would have the utter joy that comes from learning a new skill and a new way of life. Gray skies were behind me. Blue skies lay ahead.
As I said above, that lasted a good 10 minutes. Sometime in minute 11, I remembered that moment on a playground in Coeur D’Alene, ID on July 21st 2004. I was 19 years old and I had just completed a very fruitful and awesome day of ministry. The day had closed out through an honest conversation with my pastor who in so many words told me, “You have the gifts and graces to do this for life and we need you.” So I rode my bike out to that playground, climbed to the very top, saw a shooting star and told God, “Fine, you got me. I’ll do this ministry thing.”
I also remembered another moment in a shack at a campground in mid October, 2007. I was telling God that I wasn’t going to do ministry after all. I didn’t want to do and besides, “I have no idea why you called me when there are so many other fitting people for the job.”
God replied, “Of course there are and I’ve called them too! Don’t you worry about them.” So I didn’t and my calling was refreshed.
Then I remembered another cold day in February, 2012 when I got a call from a now close friend and Assistant District Superintendent who said there was a small church in a small town who for some reason or other was impressed by my resume. That same month I was offered a full time management position at the homeless shelter where I had worked. I still miss that wonderful rescue mission and leaving it was hard. But my wife and I reasoned that for many, many years I had planned on pasturing a church. It was only logical that at one point a church was going to call me and only reasonable that I should say, “yes.” So we did and left that wonderful homeless shelter behind to this new life of pastoral ministry.
I took me about 60 seconds to recall all that and what followed was a realization that the race wasn’t over and it would be stupid to stop now.
So I kept running.
And the rest of the year is now history. But God has been good and gracious and all the things we claim this God is. The outpouring of blessing that followed as I have run is downright amazing.
So into 2018 I run.