Never Say Never
I could write a book on dumb things I’ve said.
And telling God you’ll never do something is dumb. I’m not saying that when you do say this, He’s sure to make you do it just to prove a point. I’m saying that He’s God, and, as they say, you and I are not. And, in the end, God does what He wants. But when we walk through The Valley of the Shadow of Death, things get very real, very fast. Sometimes we can say all kinds of non family-friendly things.
In The Valley and Off the Grid
On a clear evening in 2007, then serving as church planter/lead pastor of Emmaus Road Church in Laramie WY, I experienced a moderate 10-minute panic attack on my way to one of our outreach events. I had read about some pastors getting these but never thought I’d make the list. I certainly couldn’t have imagined what followed: virtually nonstop, fierce panic, anxiety and agoraphobia brought on by a gross overprescription of psychotropic medications. This caused an array of bizarre physical symptoms such as shaking, sweating, twitching, stuttering, falling and passing out. I became a person I didn’t recognize. After 6 months of this with few answers, I felt I had no choice but to resign as pastor of Emmaus Road.
Once the overmedication was discovered came the full year of detoxing. While my episodes had diminished considerably within the first two weeks of treatment, depression joined the list of struggles now that I was lucid enough to process all that had happened and all I had lost. This is when you know that asking the “Why” question is never fruitful, but you do it anyway.
You simply can’t make this stuff up.
Most of us are familiar with the Five Stages of Grief - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. I built a cozy 4-bedroom brick ranch on Anger and Depression and hid there for 4 years. I may not have known or understood most of what was happening to me, but I was so neck-deep in sadness and anger that the only certainty I had was of what was NOT happening - MINISTRY. Not ever. The surest way to get me to look through you was to tell me that all of this was part of God’s plan to use me in some future ministry. No, thank you.
Learning to Crawl
In October 2012 we attended a service at St. Patrick Presbyterian Church in Greeley, drawn to it for no other reason than it reminded us of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral, Emmaus Road’s first venue. The sacred space, prayers, Scripture, liturgy and weekly Lord’s Supper – all reminiscent of our time in Laramie – washed over us and every week I sobbed like a baby. It was good to have a pastor and, before long, Michael Matthews and I began to meet weekly. Being tucked in a little corner behind the worship leader and playing guitar on Sunday mornings became a great source of joy. Our family began to feel what Tara one day referred to as a Fresh Wind we sensed was drawing us to greater capacity for people and the Gospel. There was an increasing desire in me to serve in a volunteer capacity that I couldn’t explain. The closest analogy became that I had been drafted and sent to war for seven years and was now coming home. I’d been shot to pieces with the scars and limp to prove it. But inside, I was surprisingly alive, even deeper for it. Too deep for words, maybe.
In a moment of frustration, I had thrown away or given away all of the ministry books I’d accumulated over 20 years of ministry. In the very small pile I kept is Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have To Get Out of the Boat - one that had been instrumental in our decision to start Emmaus Road. As church planters, Tara and I had connected deeply with Peter’s example of faith, risk, obedience and, most importantly, his humanity. And now, again, it seems that for some time God has been gently but persistently shoving us out of another boat. The One who had held on to my family, and me who had refused to let me go, remained faithful in spite of my faithlessness.
God is healing us at Saint Patrick Church. It has become clear that an aspect of this work is in serving, in re-
After using “NO” as my default answer for so many years, I am now saying “YES” to walking with people in a ministry context. I am following this call by doing two things:
· This coming fall I will begin pursuing a Masters in Christian Formation and Soul Care at Denver Seminary. I want to walk with people who hurt and struggle, who desire to know what God is up to in their lives, and who perhaps have “gone to war” as I have. While I’ve had many opportunities to do this through conversations with people (most in the setting of what I call my Magic Porch), there is much for me to learn in this practice.
· Sharing with the pastor my desire to serve in some staff capacity, the elders of Saint Patrick have formally extended an invitation to serve as Director of Spiritual Development in a half time capacity.
So, it looks like I am reneging on two of my “nevers” and, believe it or not, it feels good. I am inviting you to consider supporting us financially, on a monthly basis, for a period of four years – the estimated time it will take to finish school (gifts are tax deductible). Though not formally in the budget, Saint Patrick’s has agreed to contribute, their intention being to increase their giving each year. We trust God for the outcome, whatever it may be. More importantly, we covet your prayers, and I’m not just saying that. It has literally kept us alive for the last 7 years.
I haven’t done this kind of thing in a long time. I’m not sure I’m good at it anymore. I’m a 47-year old man, the kind of man Metallica’s James Hetfield describes as “Broken, Beat and Scarred”. There’s no “take the hill” left in me, no desire to “rock the city”. What IS in me, however, is a readiness to offer myself to Jesus once again as an
instrument – a blunt one perhaps - of His peace among those with whom He graciously allows me to walk.
And there you have it. If you’d like to participate, please send us the enclosed card. We’d love it if you wrote a little note or something as we’ve lost touch with so many people since going into hiding.
The sun on our faces is feeling good these days.