Posted tagged ‘life transitions’

The Now Whats of Life

August 6, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      August 5, 2018

                                     

On Friday I reached my summer running goal of 200 miles. It’s a challenge that I gave to my middle school cross-country runners at the end of their school year, and since I challenged them I took it up myself. 

Yesterday, the first day after reaching my goal, I found myself struggling with any motivation to run even three miles. I did, but the drive wasn’t there.

I realized that I had reached the “Now What?” moment. Goals are great and result in significant achievements being made, but after the conquered goal where does one go? It’s like a clear path through the woods that suddenly seems to fade. You can look behind you and see with clarity where you have come from, but now you’re not sure where you should be going.

The “Now What?” isn’t just a running situation. When I retired from pastoral ministry after 36 years I reached that “now what?” moment. Think of it! We look towards retirement as that goal we strive for, but when it’s reached many people flounder in the aftermath. The way has been paved through forty hour work weeks…week after week after week…and then the Monday morning after handing in the keys to the office arrives. Through the exhilarating sense of being freed the question rises within us: Now what?

In the midst of every success and milestone the question looms. Someone’s new CD goes gangbusters, a team wins a major championship, a company reaches a new sales record, a politician wins a race for office, the last child leaves home and it’s now officially an empty nest…the list goes on and on.

As I contemplated my attitude of apathy yesterday it made me go deeper. Why run? What are the benefits of continuing? Is it something that I simply go through the motions with, or does it answer a need I have? If I continue putting in the miles it needs to be because I want to, not because of a goal I’m running towards…or should I just set another goal to run towards?

When I pastored the “now what?” came up quite often. We spent so much time focused on Christmas and Easter that the question surfaced right after those energy-draining ministry times. It surfaced every year around budget preparation time. If the congregation had been spot on with their giving the question was raised in the midst of a group of optimists and pessimists. Depending on one’s view of life and the church, the “now what?” was answered with either holding steady or taking that next step of financial faith.

So I’ve had to battle the dual attitudes of optimism and pessimism within me about the next “leg” of my running journey. Why keep doing it? Well…because I am physically in better shape than I have been for some time, and because it’s part of my quiet time. As I huff and puff I pray and ponder, think and consider. And like in life, some days are more difficult than others, and other days have me more motivated than others. 

Finally, I reach that “now what?” moment every time I write a blog post. It’s done, so now what? What can I possibly write about next? 

Funny! God always seems to spring up something in my mind. 

The Strange Place Called “Retired Pastor”

September 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       September 5, 2016

 

My life has been filled with transitions, as has yours! Transitioning from diapers to diaper-less, going from crawling to walking, from pre-school to kindergarten, elementary to junior high. There was transitioning from not shaving to imagined shaving (Thinking I saw a hair on my chin and needed to shave!) to shaving; and going from dating Carol to being seriously in love with Carol to marrying Carol.

You get the idea! Life is transitory in nature! We have to continually adjust to changes around us and in us.

Eight months ago I retired as a church pastor after thirty-six and a half years in the ministry. I was ready! I had lost my edge! I was tired of the drama, the weekly tasks, and even the distance that the position was creating between my Creator and myself. So I announced almost three months in advance that I was retiring at the end of December.

Retirement has come with its benefits. Carol says that I am a more relaxed now, perhaps easier to live with. I’m home evenings. We are able to share more dinners together than apart. I’ve had more time to read and write. The lawn looks better! There has been more nights when I’ve been able to sit on the couch with the grandkids watching TV like a kid. (Carol was more amused at me the other night as I sat there watching Shrek 2 with them. I laughed like a kid, because in those moments I was!)

But retirement has also come with its challenges. Being a retired pastor is a strange place to be in. For sixty percent of my life I had been an actively employed pastor. It had become as natural to me as throwing right-handed. Transitioning from that has been one of the hardest changes in my life.

Why is that? Because a pastor is relationally wired. Pastoring is not like a faucet that you can turn on and off at a turn of the wrist. Right now two people who are dear to me are dealing with illnesses that are most likely terminal. Not being their pastor any longer puts me in that strange place of trying to be redefined. Who am I now? A friend? I’m okay with that, but who am I to them? They still refer to be as Pastor Bill.

As pastors we have a Code of Ethics that we commit to follow. Much of it is written with the understanding that it is difficult for people to see someone who has been their pastor as now being their former pastor. Therefore the former pastor needs to keep that distance from those he/she has been the pastor to. It has wisdom in it. If the former pastor still keeps popping up those he pastored will keep reinserting him into his former role. If a church was like a car transmission it would be a car with transmission trouble, having trouble shifting from one gear to another. For the congregation there would be great difficulty in being able to shift from one pastor to the next.

My son-in-law has encountered some similar dynamics in his dental practice. He and my daughter bought the practice from a retiring dentist last fall. Several times he has encountered those words: “Dr. So-and-So didn’t do it that way!”

It is hard for people to transition from one trusted professional to the next. Dentists, doctors, barbers, and especially pastors. The pastor has been there for the crises, the deaths and the births. He has been the confidant and the encourager.

And now he is retired!

This strange new place I’m in has been populated with new adventures, but also deeply-rooted problems that I’ve stubbed my toe on. As time has gone on, and as my former church has gotten closer to calling the next person to come and be the pastor, I’ve become more distant from those I used to pastor. That isn’t a good thing, but a necessary thing.

The small church, a forty-five minute drive away from town, has become my unofficial “pastoring outlet.” I get to preach, pray for, and offer encouragement like I had been doing. I’m like an old dog who gets taken out to the woods and allowed to run around a bit to keep me moving.

As I figure out this new place I’m in there will be moments of celebration and times of depression. I look behind me at the years of footprints and look ahead at a different terrain that requires a change in footwear.

 

Letting Go of My Cassette Tapes

June 8, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                June 8, 2016

                                

It’s been a difficult week. I took my carrying case of cassette tapes to Goodwill! It was comparable to that day several years ago when Carol and I took Lizi, our youngest, to college.

Carol has been cleaning up the basement this week. The trunk of our car was loaded with various boxes and forgotten treasures. I was okay with the old humidifier finding its place in the trunk, but then…then (dramatic music for effect)…she brought out the tape case.

I had forgotten about it, but then I started looking at all the products of music production that it held.

Twila Paris….Bohemian Melodies…Lake Wobegon Days…Whale Sounds…DeGarmo and Key…Cat Stevens…Andrae Crouch…Larry Norman…Keith Green! The last three are now dead, but hey!…their music never dies…unless, of course, its on a cassette tape.

I begrudgingly zipped the case closed and said a few holy words over it, sprayed incense in the air, tore my cloak and threw ashes on my head, and then drove the condemned to Goodwill.

I realize that neither of our vehicles has a tape player, and the one cassette player we have is somewhere unknown, but it is hard to let go of objects that I’ve associated with a certain period of my life.

Cassette tapes were from a time when Carol and I were raising three kids. There’s a sweetness to those memories. I would listen to Twila Paris as I prepared the Sunday message. When the music ended, I pressed the eject button and the tape door would open. I’d flip the cassette over and press Play. Good times and good music.

Life is littered with those Goodwill moments when we just need to let some things go. Pack them up and move on.

Churches usually aren’t very good at that. Sentiment runs high. Every congregation has a certain number of people who want things to stay the same. Like with my cassette tapes, I just wanted them to be there in case, for some odd reason, on a rainy afternoon I ever had the urge to hear whale sounds again.

Years ago there was a man in my church who had to travel most of the time. He would be gone for three or four months and then be home for a week. I got wind of the fact that he wasn’t going to come to church anymore so I called him. He said the church had changed, that it wasn’t the same. In essence, he wanted it to be there for him whenever he had the urge or possibility of attending. In his turbulent and fast-paced life he wanted the worship service to be the same as it had been in order to bring back to him memories of a period of his life that he longed to return to.

It’s hard to say goodbye, because we feel that we’re being insensitive. There are those who transition, it seems, with ease, and then there are those of us who hold on because we associate whatever we’re grasping with God. If it at one time was a vehicle of God we think it borders on blasphemy to get rid of it.

Churches are often hoarders out of a confused love for God. It’s like when I go to Best Buy and purchase a new Blu-Ray player, and then bring it home and sit it on top of my DVD player, which is still sitting on top of my VHS player.

Sometimes we just have to take the cassette tapes to Goodwill!

What Carol doesn’t realize is that I sneaked half a dozen tapes out of the case when she was out of the room. I think that’s okay! Bohemian Melodies, it seems, are few and far between these days.

The Complications of Living An Uncomplicated Life

May 25, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 25, 2016

                         

Just when life seems to be less complicated, procedures dot the schedule that make me bite my fingernails. I’m sitting in a waiting room of a medical building where Carol is having a colonoscopy. Oh joy!

She has informed me that I’m next! I heard it kind of like when the school secretary at Victory Heights Elementary In Winchester, Kentucky, told me I was next in the line of condemned students to see Mr. Sterling, the school principal with a strong forehand. I had thrown wet paper towels in the school restroom the previous day…and been caught! A night of no sleep had preceded my waiting room experience. I had tried to feign sickness that morning at home to no avail, kind of like trying to find a reason for canceling a colonoscopy!

Now Carol was looking at me like I had late homework that i was trying to turn in.

“You’re next!” her eyes shouted.

“ But what if I don’t wanta’!”

Not a safe and healthy response.  As Carol goes through her procedure, refusing to have one myself is not an option.

As we age life takes on a different kind of “complicated” to it. I played basketball with the boys on my seventh grade team a couple of days ago. As I climbed the steps from the school gym on the lower level back to the man floor my right knee protested. “Protests” by various parts of my body seem to be as numerous as protestors at Trump and Clinton rallies.  Acid reflux protests against the spaghetti with meat sauce I ate for lunch; my back protests at the bags of weed and feed I carried in; my teeth protest against the Enstrom’s almond toffee candy that I love to bite down on; and my bladder protests the amount of coffee I consumed, but then I’m the victim of a conspiracy protest as I stand at the urinal and can’t…you know!

Life is going down a different aisle of crowded and congested nowadays. When I was pastoring it seemed that each day was filled with appointments, deadlines, visits, meetings, and mad rushes. I longed for quiet moments and an empty schedule. Now many of my days are filled with…the complication of no complications. That means, I have so many possibilities of how the day might proceed, so many books that could be read, people that I’’m thinking about seeing, projects that I’m thinking about beginning…that I sometimes get frustrated for not achieving any of the possibilities. Dinnertime arrives and I shake my head over the fact that I wasted the day.

Don’t get me wrong! I enjoy the freedom of retirement, but I’m still adjusting to the life schedule changes. When you pastor for a long, long time everything revolves around it. Transitioning from ministry, many days, feels like trading in our Honda for a Schwinn (Do they still makes Schwinn bikes?). It’s a different pace that requires a different kind of energy.

Mondays used to be my day off. Now Monday is the day after Sunday, which has been the day…twice a month, I’ve preached at a small church forty-five minutes away from us. It used to be that Monday was my day of recovery from a week of ministry before starting the next week of ministry. Now Monday is the day I don’t need to recover. It’s the day I go to Starbucks at 7:15 in the morning, sit in my favorite seat at the end of the counter that looks out at Pike’s Peak, and write for a couple of hours as I drink a few cups of Pike Place…and then endure the protests at the urinal!

The complications of an uncomplicated life!

Carol is now out of her procedure and is giving me the look…the “You’re next look!” Ugh!

Retiring or Being Reconditioned?

October 16, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          October 16, 2015

                                               

On December 31 I will retire from full-time ministry. Yesterday I was at a retirement seminar put on by our denomination’s pension plan. So many questions…what if’s…and shall be’s!

I’m getting a lot of questions like “Retiring already?” and “What are you going to do?” I also gets comments and insinuations that pastors have a lifetime calling and, therefore, I can’t retire.

I agree with the lifetime calling aspect. I’m simply retiring as the pastor of a church where I have been for the past sixteen plus years. I’m still a pastor, I just won’t get paid!

Wednesday night I met with a young lady…who is suddenly fifty-five, who was in the youth group I led back in the late seventies. We talked for three hours and I was blessed to hear about her continuing spiritual journey. In many ways…in those three hours…I was her youth pastor again. In some ways I have been her pastor/encourager/mentor for about four decades.

Through social media I’m still a pastor in undefined ways for numerous people who have been a part of my life in some way over the past forty years. I offer encouragement to a woman who was a part of the first youth group I led back in Marseilles, Illinois. She is waging a courageous battle against cancer.

This past summer I invited young ladies I had coached in basketball at Liberty High School over a five year span to come over a Sunday night cook-out. The igniting fuse for that event was the death of a couple of months before that of a young lady I had coached, and who was their teammate. Even though I am “Coach Wolfe” to these young ladies I was a little bit their pastor that night…as we grieved…as we laughed…as we celebrated friendships and shared experiences.

I could go on and on, but my point is that retiring as the pastor of a church doesn’t mean that I am retiring from being a pastor. There is a huge difference. It means that I won’t be on a schedule to “to receive a word from the Lord” each week for the next Sunday’s sermon, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t receive a word from the Lord.

It means that I no longer will be pushed to get over to see one of the seniors who is in poor health, but it does mean that I will go see a senior friend who is in poor health because I love him dearly.

It means I won’t feel the urgency to spend time in the Word, but it does mean that I will spend time in the Word because I have a desire to be enriched and spiritual nourished.

It means that I won’t have to write a sermon each week, but I’ll not stop writing. Perhaps…cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye…perhaps I’ll be able to have a greater impact through written words more than spoken words. The power of a “shared word” can have a ripple effect.

So I’m moving out of a role that has certain job description responsibilities and into a similar role that will become clearer as I travel on the road. I’m like my old softball glove that I’ve had since 1979. Carol gave it to me as a birthday present that year…even before we were married! I used that glove again this past summer as a part of our church softball team. It still catches, but has a couple of broken strings and is looking…”weathered!” It still catches, if the softball hits in certain spots, but just needs a little reconditioning to be used in more effective ways.

That’s me! I’m like an ole’ softball glove with a couple of broken strings just in need of some reconditioning!