My blogging got interrupted by a ship wreck.

 sailboat-seattle 2While 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.

Highland Park 2Today, 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.


About Drexel Rayford

Drexel has been senior pastor of four churches in Kentucky and Virginia, a psychiatric ward chaplain, denominational bureaucrat, and an erstwhile indie singer/songwriter/story-teller and seeker of authentic human vocation. Currently, Drexel is working at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center in the capacity of The Support Team Network manager, a hospital-based community partnership aimed at nurturing healing communities for discharged patients. He loves kayaking, road cycling, hiking, and all kinds of photography, but he loves his wife Vicki and blended family of three adult children more. He holds a Ph.D. in the Psychology of Religion and a pastoral counseling certificate from the University of Louisville, Department of Psychiatry.
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11 Responses to My blogging got interrupted by a ship wreck.

  1. Wow, incredible story. Grace coming and going.

  2. Gary says:

    Excellent, Drexel! Especially your last line…that’s a keeper!

  3. abbotrichard says:

    This is a great post. Having shared part of this journey with you I understand something about the shipwreck you describe so well here. Clearly you have traveled this extremely difficult part of your journey well and with courage. Our friendship is definitely one of those on-going friendships which I do not want to let languish. I really enjoyed our lunch the other day and look forward to others in the future. I also look forward to having you back blogging again.

  4. Mark Edwards says:

    Hi Drexel

    I love you. I miss you.


  5. Mike Lee says:

    Drexel, When I think of you, I always think of that story you told at my church in Scottsville about breaking the vase when you were a journeyman in Austria. It was and is a powerful, as is this blog post. Blessings on you.

  6. Mary Dell Sigler says:

    Drexel, though my shipwreck has been completely different than yours, I can relate to the feelings you are sharing. Because Bill and I married so young, I expected us to make it to 70 years of marriage. Unfortunately, cancer took that away. I too am having to chart a new course and figure out my life. I love working for Hospice of Virginia but my kids want me to be closer to them. So lots of decisions to make and all of them made without the one who always made any decision easier. So, all of this to say, thank you for sharing your story.

    • Drexel Rayford says:

      Mary Dell, I remember Bill very fondly and have grieved his death, myself. That was a great loss. I can understand how making the kinds of decisions you have to make right now could bring on new dimensions of bereavement you hadn’t expected. I sure hope you can find the wisdom and peace you need to chart that new course – and know that I’ll be praying with you, for what it’s worth! Be sure to greet Will for me. He remains one of my favorite people – along with you.

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