My son is by far and away my best friend. He is my fiercest advocate and harshest critic, a remarkable blend indeed. His humor is dark, as in eclipse dark. It can be witty and wise, but it can also be caustic and cutting. He often puts me in my place, and I find this place to usually be higher ground.
I recall a phone call we had following my return to assist my old home church, which yielded some disturbing experiences. Here’s how that conversation went…
“So, Dad, are you still angry?”
“It will always hurt, and obviously the topic is like a chipped tooth to a tongue. Still, I am doing my best to heal and forgive. ”
“Dad, all they did was disown you, discard you, and then during your grief over Patty (my late wife) offered you an Amish shunning. To be honest, I think you have become far humbler, and a good deal kinder. I think this whole experience has forced you to mature big time.”
“Thanks for pointing out the silver lining. I hope your future is filled with happiness and hope and herpes.”
“Why thank-you Dad, but I am being at least a little bit serious. You have been forced to see yourself in a new light, and this time it is not a spotlight. You have had to contend with some real betrayal and nastiness – which, I think, is often true to the Christian tradition and the church, even if it is your home church.”
“Justin, what the hell is your point?”
“Dad, you know many folks there treated you unfairly, and did so simply to avoid looking at their own resistance to real change, and their own failure to lead. You were a scapegoat. Still, the experience has definitely deepened you and sensitized you.”
“Glad to be of service.”
“But Dad, you do need to move on. Don’t you agree?”
My temper flashed big time at this point, and I went on one wild rant about what people really mean when they tell us to move on. They want us to get out of their hair. They want us to be past our pain or hurt. They want us to quit repeating ourselves, or trying to make sense out of what seems absurd. Most of all, they do not want to get involved, or admit they could care less, or have to contend with our sadness or anger or depression. They want to have a normal good day, and they are sick and tired of folks like me spoiling it for them.
There is a callousness to the call of moving on, a cold-hearted motivation, a deep desire to not to contend with anyone else’s conflicts, issues or pain. The request to move on isn't filled with compassion, though the voice may drip with it, rather, it is instead soaked in cruelty and cynicism. I do not care how true the comment “move on” might appear on the surface, most people move on as quickly as they can, as best they can, and while living in this “make it snappy” culture of ours, often find themselves acting fine only not to hear the inane comment ”move on” one more time.
“I see you have not gone very far in the moving on department Dad.”
I told him I disagreed, but that my moving on was not simply a rearranging of the furniture, or keeping people happy by faking being fine. I told my son I was moving on, but I now had a limp, a few noticeable scars, and a heart which carried a permanent bruise. I have changed. I am a different person, and for me, moving on is witnessing myself heading off in a whole new direction.
I told him he was right. My humility had grown, and so had my appreciation for being just another ordinary guy. I also explained that for some strange reason, I found myself far more centered and at ease. I am definitely calmer and more focused. I know who I am, and what I want. I will never again put myself in a professional or personal setting so void of honesty or maturity or communication. I will insist on intimacy, and I will help create it.
“Is that happening at your new church?”
“Yes, to some degree, but the Church is seldom a bastion of honesty and maturity. The power of cliques, the tenacity of gossip, and the failure to forgive remain rampant in most churches. At times the Church still feels like being back in the eighth grade -- trying so hard to be popular and fit in.”
I then told my son the truth, the gospel truth. Though a rough sketch, it was still an accurate depiction of how I understood moving on.
For me, moving on means learning to live with less, especially less stuff, less emotional clutter, and far less of a need to be spiritual distracted by my addiction to being needed.
Moving on is doing away with most small talk. I want big talk. I want to talk about issues and topics which matter, and make us grow and question and doubt and seek and explore. I want fewer conversations about nothing, and just a few intimate chats about everything I care passionately about.
Moving on is a matter of acceptance. I must accept my age, and all the missed opportunities, failures and flops. I must accept my very fat body with skin tags under my arms that look like Stonehenge. I must accept a penis which cowers in fear behind folds of fat, and secretly is grateful to be off the hook.
I have to accept that I only have a few good books left in me to write, and that my painting will remain a fixture of my gift giving to friends and family – no galleries will come calling.
I must admit that Life has picked up the pace, and the slide downhill is ridiculously quick. I must accept the coming years, and their inherent demand for respecting the risks of a fall, and the need to move in spite of the pain. I must accept the reality of God’s shout to me to eat balanced meals and have a balanced life.
Moving on means surrender. I am not in control. I am not in charge. I am not steering the ship any longer. I am rapidly becoming a spiritual passenger on a ship whose next port just may be a portal. As Jim Harrison (a writer we both love) wisely opined, “I am rounding third base, and home plate is a hole.”
“Justin, my moving on is not physical, it is spiritual. I must come to a new place, a new set of understandings and insights, and most of all get ready to be transformed. I want to be transformed into a simpler soul, less frenzied, less addicted to people pleasing and performing and trying to be perfect, and more inclined to savor the gift of a quiet and peaceful existence and day. In truth, from here on out, I hope to just make someone’s day every day.”
“Well, start today. I need a couple hundred.”
My memory has sprung a leak. At first, I noticed an occasional drip, as a name, story line of a book or an appointment time would disappear. Lately, I am afraid the drip has become more frequent. Drip, drip, drip…
I’ve tried to stuff the leak with denial and arrogant shrugs, but late at night, whenever I lie awake with worry, I hear it loud and clear – drip, drip, drip. I have no idea if it could fill a bucket in a day, but I suspect it might. The next day I empty the bucket, and for a few moments pretend that’s the end of it.
I’m beginning to have anxiety about my leak. Like a blizzard, which begins lazily with a few flurries, only to become a paralyzing avalanche in a wickedly short span of time. I try to reason with my anxiety, which never accomplishes a thing. I tell myself it is nothing more than the process of aging.
I bargain with my memory incessantly. I seek to convince myself that a vast bulk of my memory is still intact. Drip. Drip. Drip. Then a name vanishes, or I forget what I had gotten up to retrieve, and the swarming anxiety returns with a vengeance.
I often try to locate a forgotten memory, only to have the process end in a frustrating mess. The memory sits sticky between your fingers, only a remnant of what it once was when alive and full and pulsing.
I do crossword puzzles every morning. When I complete the entire puzzle, I’m ready to sing the Alleluia Chorus from THE MESSIAH. When the puzzle is left with gaping blank spots and boxes, I am left crestfallen for most of the morning.
I look through church directories where I once pastored, and test how many names I can recall. In truth, I remember most folks, but there are always a few who disappear like a deer into the woods at the side of the road – there, and then gone.
I am not fond of aging. I intensely dislike the reality of losing control. My father had diabetes and died from Alzheimer’s disease. I have diabetes and … well, fill in the blanks. This often leaves me in an agitated state. I feel as though I am roller skating during an earthquake. I have never been paralyzed by fear, but I have been immobilized by the power of my anxiety over losing my memories.
I pray. God sends them right back, mostly unanswered and unopened. It's God’s way of telling me to grow-up and go with the flow. I hate those treacly platitudes, and yet spout them off repeatedly to other poor unsuspecting folks.
When I was in the ninth grade, I had a wrestling match in gym class with a guy named Zeke. Coach Ford matched us up with a smirk, and then folded his arms across his chest, pulled up a chair and sat down to enjoy the show.
Within the first minute, Zeke, who was built like an ox, had me pinned to a count of two. I had strong beer kegs for legs and managed to get free before the count of three. In the final minute of our match, I pinned Zeke to the count of about one and half. When Coach finally blew his whistle, he held up both of our arms and called it a draw. A few of the guys who had encircled us, even gave us some applause.
At this point, I will settle for a draw. It is the best I can hope for. Most days I can still think and speak with clarity, move about as I please. Most days I forget all about the memory lapses. I approach each new day with a heady confidence and a sense of control. I don’t swagger, but I still have an occasional strut to my step.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The loss of memory is a perfect metaphor for aging. Growing old is like witnessing whole days rush down the gutter with the rain, or months rushing like a river into the ocean. It doesn’t ease my anxiety, but it does help me to be less afraid. I guess it enables me to stand up and face each dawn with hope -- I’m not pinned yet.
Drip. Drip. Drip. Only time will tell, and I think it has already spoken. But there are memories that remain, and some to be created -- at least for the time being.
Seasons skip on in then run away. We often fail to notice their arrival, and rarely savor their presence. We speak of their sudden departure with shock, and frequently refer to the next season as the one which will transform our lives and spirits, which of course they seldom do.
Yet there are some years, for whatever the reason, we long for a season to arrive. Our waiting is bloated with desire. This year was such a year for me, as my excitement for Spring to arrive became a waiting game filled with anticipation.
I refuse to complain about April snows – We have them every year. I endure the messy mud and greyish-brown landscapes. I act as though forty degrees is balmy, and politely ignore the chill I feel when the wind still bites my cheeks.
Each Spring, I promise myself to worship the crocus, forsythia and daffodils, and sing the glorious praise of the brief but beautiful tulips. I inhale the smell of lilacs and get goosebumps at the thought of branches swarming with pale pink and coral blossoms. I want to feel gentle breezes and the foreshadowing of a summer of splendor, however short.
Why the urgency for me this year for the arrival of Spring? It was about the ugliness and mean spiritedness of current times, the endless squabbling, the rampant rise of racism and sexism, an inability for all sides to communicate with each other. I am weary of greatness being thought of solely in terms of money and stuff.
I look to Spring as an opportunity to lift me to higher ground. Maybe the freshness will inspire me, fill me with a belief of becoming better people, creating a better place. Maybe the newness of God’s Spring palette will point me to higher ground – beauty always has a way of doing that. Maybe it is just change I seek – transformation – the earth being draped greens, the skies becoming a softer blue, the rains reduced to sprinkles. Maybe what I need so badly is an experience of God’s will and not my own.
There is magic in Spring, a miracle of a kind. Its mysteries free us to celebrate our humanity and give pause to thank the Divine. We must be better than all the craziness going on. We cannot cling much longer to the notion of ignoring the conditions of the planet, or thinking that war creates peace, or God has forgotten all about being committed to the poor.
Spring has the opportunity to bring us back down to earth. Humus is the name for earth, and also the root of the concept of humility. God is loudly proclaiming our culture’s desperate need to acquire some humility. Less is more. Keep it simple. Learn to compromise. Choose to serve. Give until it hurts. Make a genuine sacrifice.
Spring is dependable. It shows up in swatches of buttery yellow, daffodils trumpeting and fireworks of forsythia announcing their presence. Maybe this year, we notice, and let our souls applaud, accepting Spring as Divine, dependable and beautiful.
I have been a player for “Team Church” for over forty years. There have been several “victories,” some which even made me feel like a champion. However, more and more I wonder where the Church is headed, and why it chooses to do nothing about it. Many seem to recognize the institution know as “Church” is in a downward spiral. The main line churches seem to sit stunned and silent, not understanding why young people are frustrated with orgainized religion.
Young people have been telling us for years why they’re not at church, but the Church has been too defensive to hear them, too stubborn to consider a change. Young people have been telling us they are bored by Church, weary of the ruts and routines which define the focus on worship versus religion. They’ve made it clear they’re not getting what they need from the Church, at least nothing which might impact their daily lives. They’ve been upset with the Church for being hypocritical and self-righteous, or for their inability to address sexuality with openness or depth.
For every born-again Christian, there are others who have been badly scarred by the Church. Some of the damage has been caused by an inability to listen to doubts, answer questions, or respond to creative ideas for transformation. Other issues stem from those wounded by religious intolerance, with refusals to welcome, baptize, marry or bury. People are also put off by elite Church “cliques” who serve the Clergy more than the congregation. Mostly, I feel it is Church protocols which turn most off, members of congregations being treated more like children than spiritual beings.
When I retired from serving my home church, it was a difficult and troubling time in my life, having just lost my second wife after a long battle with an illness. In addition, I had begun caring for my ailing sister, whose health had become a “Demolition Derby.” One day, I received a call from the Bishop of my old church, a friend of mine, who asked if I could meet with him that day. At that meeting, I was confronted with reported “sightings” of me with some of my former parishioners. This was against Church protocol. Did I really do something wrong? Had I become an enemy?
I explained I had supper with a couple of high school students who needed college scholarship recommendations. I apologized if this broke any “rules,” but who better to write these recommendations than someone who really knew them. I was also confronted about a brunch I attended with five ladies from the church, with whom I had shared life and ministry with for over fifty years. I’d taken them out for a Christmas meal and to give them gifts, a practice I’d consistently done for years.
Protocol! Does it truly serve Jesus Christ? Does it truly serve the members of the congregation? I admit, I felt stymied by my visit with the Bishop, though I respected his role and awkwardness in having to “warn me” of my need to sever all pastoral connections. I even reminded him that I had just completed recommendations for both of his children. We both smiled and shook hands, but I could feel deep frustration building in me.
Was I truly interfering with the new Pastor? How could a new Pastor have written a recommendation for youth they simply did not know? Was the giving of Christmas gifts to folks who had helped pay for me to attend Seminary now taboo?
Like the Pharisees of old, whenever the Church gets caught up in keeping the letter of the law, the passion and compassion ceases to flow. The truth was, there were those at my home church who simply wanted me to disappear. I knew and understood the protocol, I just don’t believe protocol should come before loving and helping others in the name of Jesus Christ.
Too often, protocol seeks to prevent what seldom happens, and serves instead to arouse suspicion and inspire those who are looking for something wrong. Church needs to encourage adults to work out their differences rather than to argue over protocol. Nothing improved during my meeting the Bishop, nothing accomplished.
I am sure those who wish me to disappear will have a different perspective, and will cite protocol to support the accuracy of their critique. What I would say is, “Do you have any idea how many people are turned off to the church by using protocol as a door, not a window?
Young people have been saying for some time they have no interest in organized religion. In their eyes, organized equals too many rules, regulations, creeds, doctrines and dogmas, and not enough spirituality. Yet the Church keeps defending their structure, even as people are less drawn towards it. A little less protocol and a lot more loving would keep many churches open, possibly thriving.
I find it amazing how little forgiveness we see coming out of the Church. I fear this could be impacting relationships with those who left, claiming spiritual damage, but who are now seeking a possible return. What are the structures of forgiveness in the denomination? How are we encouraged within the Church to be a merciful body and people? Where is the polity which requires us to discuss and even debate the spirit of the Law? If there are any, they are seldom used or actualized.
I would have welcomed the opportunity to sit down with those from my old church who wished me to disappear, and discussed with them a way to find a middle ground. I was met instead with protocol, which has no heart, no soul, and fails to realize the raw pain I was in at the time. No matter what, I know that what would have happened would be more in keeping with the ministry of Jesus Christ, than offering the black and white correctness of those who hold the power.
I was counseling a couple who were getting more and more frustrated every week. The wedge between them seemed immovable, the bad habits so engrained there was little cause for hope.
At one point the wife just sobbed, and kept repeating, “I am just so tired of trying. I just want to quit.”
So, I took an admitted risk and responded, “OK, then why don’t you both quit trying for a period of time.”
“That doesn’t sound very pastoral,” the husband snapped sarcastically.
“Well, when Jesus was tired of trying, he'd go off into the desert and be by himself for an extended period – at times as long as forty days and night,” I answered.
“Oh great, I’ll book our flight for the Sahara tomorrow,” the husband said mockingly.
“Hear me out,” I replied. “Maybe what you both need is a break – Quit working on this marriage for few weeks. Try agreeing to spend time apart, even if you are living under one roof. I am not asking you to separate, but I am asking you to stop examining, analyzing and critiquing this relationship. Get back in touch with your souls. Let yourselves receive. Quit trying to be in control of the relationship and see what your hearts say. Perhaps, you may even discover what God has to say.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about Pastor Bill,” said the still teary wife, “but I’m ready to try anything, even doing nothing.”
I advised this couple to give themselves time to rest, relax and stop trying to sort everything out. Listen to their souls, and yes, to God. Take walks, read a book, listen to music, watch an old black and white movie, do whatever it is you love to do. Find things that make you lose track of time, restore your spirit, boost your energy. Just stop trying to fix the relationship.
Without divulging details, they went their separate ways for a couple weeks. They stayed under one roof, but agreed to not sleep together, and each agreed to make plans to visit with old friends. For two weeks, they focused on their need to put the disputes and analyzing to rest.
This approach worked wonders. Their time away from each other enabled them to regain perspective. Their old friends were extraordinary in offering insights garnered from their own imperfect marriages, and most importantly, they missed one another. Yes, there was still much work to be done, but taking a moment to rest and reflect had improved the situation.
We all to take time to rest and reflect, recognize it might be time to temporarily quit trying. When it feels like you’re marching in place in quicksand, it might be time to step away, give your soul a much needed rest. At times, our lives require us to know when to say both “No” and “Stop.” It is truly amazing what rest and refocus can do for a marriage, an attitude, a friendship, the loss of a loved one, or a period of significant stress.
Cultural instinct tells us when we feel like we are out of gas, on empty, we need to try just a little harder, push it a few more miles. Is it better to keep stressing over a gas gauge needle on Empty, possibly have to walk to gas station in defeat? No, the best solution is to stop at the nearest gas station and refuel.
When we are weary and in need of rest, we must simply stop, surrender our time and selves to God, and receive the embrace of Grace which is surprisingly always ready and willing to be there for you.
I received an anniversary card from this couple last year. Every year they now spend a few weeks apart, and have come to realize they simply cannot meet all the needs of one another, and that’s not a bad thing. They wrote how taking care of yourself is not your mate’s job, but your own. This frees you up to truly enjoy one another, rather than counting up petty disappointments and grievances. Sometimes, you just need to quit trying. Not very “American,” but certainly Christian.
I cry these days. Honestly, I cry fairly often. I do so late at night, when all is quiet, and all I can hear is the wind, or the silence. I’ve become comfortable with my tears, I’ve grown into my grief, and I know it remains a remarkable teacher in my Life.
At times I just ache with the yearning to talk to Christine, my late first wife. I wish I could listen to her tell me what the look on Justin’s face means, or what the tone of his voice is saying, or why he needs to be alone so often, or at least at a distance. I wish we could swap sermon stories and ideas, or I could hear her sing to me, or I could listen to that outrageous laugh of hers.
At times I smile and weep in thinking of Patty, my second wife, who has also passed, and who was Christine’s good friend. We loved driving all about the countryside and finding a dump of a restaurant that we trusted would have good soup and great pie. We sang while we drove, and would then decide what tearjerker movie to watch that night. I laugh when I think how much I miss her booming laugh.
I wish my good friends Forrest Church and Bob Shober were still around. Forrest made me my mind think, stretch and grow, and made me realize I should take my gifts more seriously. Bob gave me hope and made Life seem so much more worth the effort. Good male friends are so damn hard to find.
I miss my sister. She was so miserable before she died, and I had so little patience left. I just did not want to be a caregiver anymore. I wept over Christmas, wondering how it would have been to have spent another Christmas Eve and morning with her. Still, down deep I knew nothing would have made much of a difference. She deserved so much better. Maybe we all do.
I miss my Mom and Dad a lot. Their absence is smaller now, less gnawing, but I cannot believe my whole family is gone. Time is brutally quick, and the memories so swift and fleeting and frequently foggy. The days are like dominos falling, and the end is coming – I know it in my bones.
I have lost other good friends, and sadly, even the spiritual anchor of my home church, and grief has become my daily companion. We must listen to our losses. We must leap into the wide depths of these black holes shaped by death or departure, not to indulge the pain, but to remind us we cherished it all, and still do. I would ask for one more day if only we could, and how we want more. Yes, we truly do.
Jesus wept when he lost Lazarus. Not heaving sighs of grief. Just a few quiet tears late at night in the stillness, when nobody else was around, and he just wished things were the way they once were, He too was stunned by the savagery of loss, but also how loss sweetened the deal – enabling us to know just how much we cared and loved and forgave. I bet the disciples were confused by his tears, just as my friends will be after reading this piece – are you OK they will ask?
Yes, I am. I am fine. I am also human and the losses hurt and the quick passages are stunning and leave me dumbstruck, and the longing to return remains bold and beautiful, and we merrily roll along knowing we cannot catch up with Time. It is the way of Life, and it is a tough road, not one often traveled, but as for me, well, I do love the back roads.
I like journeys which include detours and dead ends and places ironically called overlooks, begging us not to overlook their beauty. I know the gentle anxiety I so often fell these days is intimately bound to my aging, and the wisdom which comes when we sense home is just around the corner. It simply cannot be helped, nor should it be. It is something to accept, embrace, and yes, even enjoy.
How foolish to go through Life by freeway, where there are no overlooks where we can witness the stunning beauty of our memories, or the unique perspective of our losses. Slow, meandering, back roads, that is the way to go, at least for the soul.
Once the tears cease, my soul calms and I drift to sleep. My dreams will be vivid and filled with want, and I will greet the morning with affection and deep appreciation.
I’m not sure when it occurred, but I’m quite certain it happened. There was no single moment, rather, a tide which carried me to a different shore. I’m new to this spiritual island, and I know there is no going back – It’s my home for my remaining days.
I’ve entered the epilogue stage of my life. These are the days haunted by knowing Time is picking up speed. These are the years when our losses no longer whisper, but shout, even scream. It's an era when eternity’s echo reverberates off our souls.
I can actually hear my soul’s pulse these days. It's different from my heartbeat - Deeper, fuller and clearer in its honesty. Most of my conversations with God are no more than a knowing nod, a smile of approval, or blank stare of resignation.
We all live knowing we will someday die. This is Life’s grand paradox, and the igniter of a good bit of faith. It is frightening and inviting at the same time. I find it to be an experience for which I cannot prepare, but do accept.
No, I’m not yearning to die. Yes, I regret not having taken better care of my body and my health. Ministry has prepared me well for my epilogue days. They are quite short, like watching a sun slowly set, until the very end, when it seems to quickly plunge over the horizon and disappear.
When did my epilogue begin? Well, it could just be a matter of aging, maturing, eroding, or slowly surrendering my illusion of control. I’m nearing seventy, and I wake up most mornings sounding like a large bowl of Rice Krispies. I snap, I crackle, and at some point in the day, I pop. The mirror tells me I look like an elderly Pillsbury Dough Boy. My soul tells me to embrace my state and claim the truths revealed.
Life is precious, and we squander so many days with excessive tasks, worrying, people pleasing, pondering how to get even, figuring out the score, trying to be perfect, and living a life mostly about performance and pretense. During the epilogue, we become vividly aware of what a waste of time much if that was.
The epilogue is time for us to listen to our callings and choose to follow. It is time to obey our soul, our Higher Power, and find freedom in doing so. It is time to seek integrity, dignity, and above all else, maturity. During the epilogue days, we experience the glaring kinship of maturing and being a spiritual creature. We know it is time to stop zealously trying to be young, and to begin to wear our wrinkles with grace and pride.
Maturity is what the soul instinctually seeks. Like a magnet. Like gravity. Maturity tries to prevent us from wasting anymore time or energy, to stop us from acting as though we have all the answers, and to return us to wisdom’s source by having the right questions.
So much of our lives are spent trying not to be human, thus failing to be true to God’s will. It’s time to open our Selves to receiving the gift of God’s Grace, and accepting the terms God has set for our lives. We all need to live with less, slow down, celebrate being ordinary, and admire the extraordinary things accomplished by those who simply choose to be good.
We tend to be greedy, and often ignore or are indifferent to the poor, the lost & lonely, the oppressed & abused, even the elderly. Truth is, you cannot take “It” with you. There are no pockets in a shroud. Nobody will carve the state of your bank account on your tombstone. We all will be known solely by the depth, tenacity and tenderness with which we love one another.
In the midst of these epilogue days, most of us have a revelation. We want to make a difference, a mark of kindness, an act of forgiveness, a responsibility met, a love actualized, and the finding of a faith we can put into action. We are aware of wanting to put forward our best Selves, and what a tragedy it would be to live our last days in fear and loathing.
I have no interest in trying to figure out what lies beyond. These epilogue days have taught me that I will never know, and building the Kingdom in the here and now is of much greater importance than worrying about who will presumably get into heaven, or not, something which I have no control over.
I must trust God. I must live and love in the present, as it is all I have, or ever had. Trying to make heaven happen here – Noticing the miracles erupting all around us, paying attention to the broken hearts and wounds of others, or just trying to make someone’s day – is a splendid way to spend time in the epilogue days.
A full life is not full of stuff, or power, or money. Life of ours is so worth the effort – and until our last breath it is one mighty effort indeed. A full life is bloated with a peace which passes all understanding, a peace which must be walked, not talked, and a peace of mind which comes to those who believe their lives matter to God; that we are indeed needed by God; that we are appreciated by our Creator.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.