It was the summer of 1976. I had just graduated from David Douglas High School and was looking forward to college and eventually pursing a career in marine biology. But the unexpected happened that summer. Something else grabbed my attention . . . and my heart. Some have used the term “calling” to describe what I experienced. Whatever the correct nomenclature might be, I definitely “heard” something . . . or Someone. Go ahead and attribute what I heard to my imagination that had been steeped in church culture for most of my life. Maybe it was a chemical imbalance in my brain or borderline schizophrenia. Nonetheless, I took it seriously and responded.
The road that I was planning to travel was deleted from my will. From that summer forward, approaching 40 years ago to this very day, my self-understanding at the deepest level of my being has been that of a minister. I’m a minister of the gospel of Jesus. When I worked in retail, management, public education, and even as a fly fishing guide, my heart and mind never lost connection with the One who grabbed my attention in 1976. Forever a minister . . . first and foremost. No matter what label, office, title, or position I’ve held over the years for economical and survival reasons, the “calling” has never stopped ringing in my soul.
It’s time to answer it again.
For me, at this point in the journey, traveling the uttermost road is how I'm to answer the call this time . . . take a risk, step out, and go.
Four months after Toni died, I took to the road for three weeks during the summer of 2012 on what I now refer to as my “sentimental journey." I traveled to Nebraska, South Dakota, and Montana. Later that fall, I made a shorter trip to southern Oregon and central California. I felt compelled to return to the communities where Toni and I had lived and served together in life and ministry. I wanted to revisit the places where we left “life markers” and to see if they remained or had any lasting influence. If nothing else, my desire was to return, remember, reflect, and give thanks for the greatest blessing of my life who was Toni. This sentimental journey was so bitter sweet and emotionally powerful . . . and dare I say, life-changing.
How so, you might ask? In many ways, actually. But as for the uttermost road, I believe it began on my sentimental journey. I reconnected with families to whom Toni and I had ministered over two decades ago. I met “children” that we had loved and cared for who were now loving and caring for children of their own. In the weight of losing Toni just months before, it felt as if the investment of our time together as partners in ministry might just have had purpose and lasting effect. Maybe it was worth all the effort, heartache, isolation, frustration, despair . . . pick your poison.
It also felt like something wasn’t complete. Something was left undone. The thought struck me that perhaps I have some unfinished business yet to attend.
It was then that the uttermost road began to unfold before me. Not the term “uttermost,” but the idea, perhaps even a “calling” of moving in a new direction. From within the tumultuous waters of my grieving soul, it was though I heard the ringing of a buoy sounding hope in the midst of an emotional storm, the flash of a lighthouse illuminating my way . . . a new way . . . into the future.
This is what I mean by "finding the way forward from the inside out."
As I write this, it will be two years this summer since making that first road trip. The following summer (2013) I went on another road trip. The idea of selling my house, resigning from my job, and hitting the road as an itinerate minister and writer has been incubating and has now come into reality.
There finally came a day when I asked myself the following question: What is it that you really want to do? How should I spend the rest of my life on this planet? Now that Toni is gone, what am I going to do with the life and resources I have left? When I search and sound the depths of my heart, what do I find, what do I see, what do I hear . . . or Whom?”
Perhaps you’ve never sensed or “heard” a call, let alone believe in such a notion. Yet, I think it behooves us all to consider such questions from time to time. Regardless of your experience or belief, don’t you desire to make your life count for something? I suspect most of you reading this entry would agree that life is much more than a paycheck and the accumulation of stuff. For the old adage is so true: “You can’t take it with you.”
Toni’s last breath reminds me of this stark reality. She took nothing with her. She left this world with nothing more than a linen cloth wrapped around her emaciated body. That’s it . . . nothing more.
Because life became so fleeting and fragile, Toni recommitted herself to answer the call to love her "guts out" and to leave it all on the line. She couldn’t take it with her . . . guts and all, you might say. But I’m sure she didn’t want to because something greater and incredibly wonderful was awaiting her on the other side of death’s door. This was what she believed. This was her hope.