“The way is narrow and the path is steep
Lord keep me walkin, walkin, ”
-David Crowder, “Keep Me”
Spiritual pilgrimages are nothing new. The imagery of the Christian walk as a pilgrimage of sorts is sprinkled throughout the New Testament. We “walk” by faith, not by sight. We “walk” with Jesus. We “walk” in the spirit. I am trying to “walk” on this journey in obedience to God… looking for clarity in the fogginess of grief.
I am on a quest. My quest is an answer to the question, “what’s next?” I can’t “return to normal.” I have been changed in fundamental ways by Pam’s death and the months preceding it.
I have told people dozens of times through the years, as a pastor, that when a trauma such as divorce, or death or job loss or radical health change comes we go on a quest for a “new normal” because, like it or not, “old normal” cannot be regained.
So like millions have done through the years, I am returning to sites holy to me. This must begin in my hometown. Though I am here in Ashland, Ky on one level to attempt to serve my mother and Pam’s family in the chaos following her father’s death, I am also attempting to make sense of the chaos that at times envelopes my spirit and emotions.
The bearings of my life that helped me stay focused are sometimes hard to spot in the turbulence of change that comes in the wake of loss. I realize both the peril and potential that are inherent in such a time as this. Sometimes I feel my feet are planted firmly on solid rock. Other times I feel like I’m in freefall. I am assured both are normal.
I have decided, guided I believe by the Holy Spirit, to return to the places in history and our life together, and give thanks for them: Our first home site (the trailer is long gone but not the barn full of chickens). A visit to the park where we would sometimes sit and talk into the “wee” hours and dream of our life together. After we married, we would go there and grab a quick supper on her evening shift break from the hospital and the end of my day at the phone company. The park where our children played, pushed on swings by their grandparents and munching snowcones from the concession stand.
I returned to the side “yard” (now parking lot) at the church where we were married in an outdoor garden ceremony, characterized by simplicity and beauty and the awareness of a new beginning. Little has changed physically in our hometown. Much hasn’t changed at all! Memories flood back easily with these physical reminders and landmarks.
And along the way, I am meeting with spiritual mentors who initially shaped my understanding of God’s call in my life to the pastorate. Though some have passed on to our truest Home, others remain. These are people I will seek out, since their initial counsel was valuable and true.
Next Sunday, I have agreed to visit my first pastorate in Shepherdsville, Ky for their 100th Homecoming. This is the place where my children met the Lord and were baptized, raised and found their initial spiritual experiences. The church was the tool God used to shape me and teach me how to pray and prepare three sermons a week. They suffered much under my early sermons. But they loved me anyway and I haven’t seen them in 25 years.
Along the way, I have many who have reached out to me inviting me to connect with them as I “travel” through on this journey. I will try to connect with them.
As I go along, I have learned a hard lesson. You can’t go home again. You change. Home changes. People change. Physical locations, if they still exist, decay and sometimes fall or are torn away. Change is only hard when you convince yourself you can somehow get along without it happening. But the only unchangeable in life is Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Change comes because our Father doesn’t want us ultimately hanging on to anything, anyplace or anyONE except Him in this earthly journey we are all on. While glimpses of heaven do come to us in the creation around us, it ultimately is fallen and we await “a new heaven and a new earth.” Something better is on the way.
These days, that promise means more to me than it ever has.