While sailing at Smith Mountain Lake some years ago, a stout wind had filled my sail. My little boat came to life and I leaned out over the gunwale to counteract the heeling of the mast against the force of the wind. I felt exhilarated as the sailboat and I, as one, ripped along over the water.
That’s when a jetski shot past. A wave from its wake heaved up under the exposed hull of my little vessel and shoved my boat over. I found myself kicking in the water, grappling with the sail, tangled in the rigging, and thankful I wore a life jacket. It took me a while to disentangle myself but after some struggle, I managed to right the hull, climb back in, erect the mast, re-rig the sail, and eventually make it back to the dock.
No one had seen me. I sat on the dock, wet and shivering listening to the far-off whine of another jet ski, or jet skis, and felt a smoldering anger. They’d ruined my reach across the channel. They’d ruined my morning. It had been peaceful and quiet as I partnered with wind and water in the ancient mariner’s art. Then an unforeseen contingency impinged. I hadn’t seen THAT coming.
And then, it happened again – in October, 2013.
I’d retired from pastoral ministry in March of 2013 and had set a new course, so to speak. Like that amateur sailor in the little sailboat, I had focused on a distant horizon and “unfurled my sail.” With a few friends, I’d helped found the Epiphany Institute of Spirituality. I’d reengaged my singer-songwriter self. I’d finished a long-delayed writing project and was waiting on the book’s publishing. I was beginning to cruise, picking up steam, gathering way.
Then on a Saturday morning as I read the Washington Post online, my wife asked me to close my computer to hear something she had to tell me. She took a deep breath and with obvious fear and trembling told me that she had come to the realization that she was a lesbian. It was the toughest thing she’d ever had to do, she said, because she knew it would change our lives inexorably. It did.
In so many ways, she had made a courageous decision.
I felt as if I’d ship wrecked, though, as I realized that a 33-year marriage was ending. It was as if an unforeseen wave had heaved me over into the water. I immediately went into a sort of survival mode, struggling to right the hull and get back under way. I wondered where I might find harbor that could shelter me long enough to make repairs, read new charts and determine what course I should take. After all, this particular voyage had been profoundly interrupted. I hadn’t seen THAT coming.
That’s why I haven’t been blogging.
I found a safe harbor, though. As I reached out to the people whose relationships have survived the years, an opportunity emerged from an old friendship. I’d worked with Malcolm Marler at the University of Louisville in the Department of Psychiatry back in the early ’80’s when he and I were doing our clinical training. Malcolm now directs the Pastoral Care Department at the University of Alabama, Birmingham Hospital and needed a program manager for an initiative called “The Support Team Network.” He encouraged me to interview. I did, they hired me, and here I am. I didn’t see THAT coming, either.
Today, I live in a beautiful neighborhood, have a new cadre of competent and very interesting colleagues, a challenging and rewarding job, joined a cool-n-funky, one-of-a-kind church, Baptist Church of the Covenant, and the means to travel to Virginia on a regular basis in order to keep contact with my 95 year-old mother, my beloved daughter, Melissa, and nurture on-going friendships which I do not want to let languish.
In other words, over the past 14 months, I’ve experienced not just pain, but a great deal of grace. Indeed, these months have ushered in some profound lessons in spirituality I would not have learned otherwise, lessons which I will humbly share in my resumed blogging. For one thing, I’ve learned that the beach on which your wreck tosses you just might be the shore of an “undiscovered country” that’ll bring you more blessing than a safe arrival at your previously intended destination.