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Layman's Walk

Endings and Beginnings

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This past week has been both incredibly rewarding and emotionally draining. I didn’t realize it this morning when my mind, spinning with the thoughts of a hundred topics, anticipations, and anxieties jerked me out of my sleep and refused to give me any reprieve. I should have simply arose from my bed then and started to write my thoughts. Now that over eight hours have passed, what had been catalysts of overwhelming emotional responses have dwindled into things that seem more manageable in the daylight. Still, many of them continue to have, “free rent in my dome,” so I think expressing them would be helpful.

The following are the random emotional ramblings of someone who is saddened at the end of something wonderful, excited and looking forward to the future, and also worried about the effects of my decisions on others who I love very much.

I graduated from Luther Seminary this past weekend–just in case the multiple posts on social media by me, my wife, and my mother somehow blissfully passed by your news feed. While I have “walked” for graduation, I’m technically not 100% finished until my internship at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Springfield concludes on August 31.

The days of August 31 and September 1 have played such interesting roles in my life over the past twenty-plus years. It was on August 31st in 1999 that Kari and I had our first kiss as a pair of 17-year-olds; the following day we were an “item” or whatever it is that high-school kids call their boyfriend or girlfriend now. Two years later, right before 9/11, we were engaged.

Many years later, September 1 would be the day I started seminary and received my first tattoo at the hands of my cousin in Colorado which permanently displays my faith on my person. A short four years later it was the day I started my internship. This coming August 31 will be the official last day of my formal five years as a student at Luther Seminary.

This is what we celebrated this past week. After five years I have (will have) finished my longest foray into higher education. I earned my bachelor’s degree in three years, and my MBA in eighteen months. Five years is the longest I have worked consistently for a specific end result.

And what an end it was! The excitement and pride I felt as we left the graduation ceremony and were met by the faculty of the seminary, lined up on both sides of us as we exited Central Lutheran Church, applauding for us and smiling were overwhelming. I have such fond memories of these people who have taught me so much and expanded my capabilities of thought and faith. Many of them I had for only one or two courses over these five years, and to have them recognize me and congratulate me by name meant the world. I look up to these people with the highest esteem.

Then I caught up with my family, who had journeyed with me to St. Paul on June 1 to spend some time there together before the graduation activities of the weekend. My incredibly supporting wife, Kari, who keeps me centered when I am drawn off-kilter, and my four kids–Addison, Isaac, Evan, and Abigail, and my mom, Carol, who is not just awesome because she’s my mom, but has helped out so much as I (and now Kari) are pursuing calls to Christ’s church.

Notably absent was my dad, Brent, who died almost nine months ago. It’s strange to look at a family photo and not see him in it. Dad was anything but religious. I know he believed in something, but he was certain that if another human being was convinced they had a monopoly on the truth, then that person was full of something else entirely. He and I never really talked much about my calling. I had walked away from a lucrative career to pursue it. Being the sole earner for a family of six, this move certainly had to seem illogical, regardless of how much consulting business I had. I can say this confidently because it even seemed illogical to me at the time, though I knew in the core of my being it was the right decision.

I realized as I thought about how this journey began, that it was bookended with the deaths of close loved ones. Just three months after Kari and I attended Luther’s Dokimatzo (Discernment) Weekend in April 2016, Kari’s mom died at 54. Just a few months shy of my 40th birthday and less than one month into my culminating internship, six and a half years later, my dad died at 66.

If ever there was a clear message about the importance of making the most out of our lives–and doing so in a way that values relationships with one another, with being present with those who we love the most, and ignoring the worthless things the rest of the world tells us we should focus on, it was this.

And I am truly grateful for my family–for my extended family, my in-laws, my parents, my kids, and for Kari. How she and I ended up with the four compassionate, loving, thoughtful, intelligent, and talented kids we have, God only knows. They each have such an interesting mix of their mother and me, and while they are so alike in many ways, their individuality and their growing and maturing personalities are nothing short of amazing to me.

As I approach the end of my internship and look forward to my first call as an ordained congregational minister, it’s my kids that cause me the most anxiety. First calls generally involve moving. Five years ago when I started seminary, the kids were gung-ho. For a 9, 7, 4, and 3-year-old kid, moving is exciting and five years is a lifetime away. But with the prospect on the horizon as Addison enters high school and Isaac enters Jr. High, opinions about moving are nowhere near as positive. And this is where my own anxiety flares up. My kids, like me at their ages, are already not thrilled about going to church a lot of the time. The idea that “church” is what is going to make them move and leave behind friends they have had since they were very small leaves them with a very negative opinion of the church.

It is, of course, the hope of both their mom and me that if we move, once we have settled in, things will work out. All four of our kids are approachable and friendly. I’ve no doubt they will all make fast friends wherever we go. I only hope this experience does not dampen their own growing spiritual lives. My own attempts at discussing this with them generally fail, as who wants to discuss their pain with the person they see as the cause of it?

As with anything in life, change is inevitable. People grow. People learn. People move. It’s how it works. And it can be painful. This last week, my family stayed in an upstairs duplex that I stayed in for two weeks during my last January intensive at Luther in 2020 before the pandemic hit. It was truly two of the best weeks of my adult life and I got to spend it with some of my favorite people on earth. As I looked around the place as we departed on Monday morning, it was with a sense of sadness and loss, knowing that my likelihood of returning to this place where I had shared so much joy with such good friends was slim, and even less likely was the chance that I would stay there again with those people.

This is the way life is. Everything has a beginning and an end, an end and a beginning. This applies to all the various chapters of our lives and to life itself.

May we spend that time in appreciation for whatever it is around us and in brotherly love with one another, neither yearning for what has passed or vying for what might be in the future, but in the present, in this day that God has made and has given to us to live.