Today is my birthday. One year ago I celebrated the half-century milestone, and at the time, things were looking fantastic. If 50 is the new 40, then life begins at the big five-oh, and for me it certainly started off that way. My book Vital Signs was doing great, and I was receiving very positive feedback from churches and conferences around the United States as well as from England, Australia, Canada, and South Africa. I was launching sixnew research efforts with an incredibly capable team of volunteers nation-wide, and I was being invited by other boards and agencies to share my research with them. My GBOD blog was gaining a follower-ship, and was receiving widespread praise. I was awaiting the release of my first book with Abingdon Press, Bursting the Bubble, and I had upcoming articles in Lectionary Homiletics, Circuit Rider, and Clergy Journal. The General Board of Discipleship was restructuring, and it looked as though my research office would begin serving Path One and the Division on Ministry to Young People as well as Discipleship Ministries. In the spring I received wonderful praise from all levels of the church for my work:
- from a seminary professor — “Vital Signs is the best book on The United Methodist Church in over a decade. I am making it required reading of all my students.”
- from a retired bishop — “It gladdens my heart to see the work you are doing for the denomination. You are doing some of the most important work anywhere in the church.”
- from a current bishop — “What you are writing is more than valuable. You are one of the few truly prophetic voices in our church today.”
Not only was I feeling good about my work and the future, but I was about to fulfill a lifelong dream — a parachute jump from an airplane (my 50th birthday gift from my wife). On May 17, 2008, I leapt from a plane (attached to an experienced jumper). The initial drop was one of the most spectacular experiences of my entire life — living up to my greatest expectations. Once the shoot opened, the glide to the ground was exhilarating and grand. The jump was everything I’d always wanted… and more. My landing was less-than-graceful, leaving me with my ankle broken in three places and my leg fractured just below the knee. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a turning point for my year — an ominous harbinger of things to come.
I was on medical leave for eight weeks, but I was so excited about the work I was doing that I conducted multiple-projects propped up in the chair in my bedroom — spending hours on the phone and Internet. My supervisor at the office fed me project work, emphasizing over and over how important it was to get the work done by July 30. I knew I would be back in my office by mid-July, but I was having too much fun to wait. I got my major research projects launched, my three GBOD projects done well in advance of the July 30 deadline, and looked forward to the release of my new book — just a few weeks away.
The importance of July 30 became apparent when I attended a ten-minute meeting at the end of the day where I was unceremoniously dismissed, being told that my position was being eliminated and that, after fourteen years of service, there was no place for me in the organization. I was devastated. Still recovering from my accident and surgery, having been encouraged to launch new projects, I was totally blind-sided by the turn of events and faced my once-bright future-turned-dark-depressing-and-uncertain. Fifty, quite frankly, sucked.
But now, another birthday. This is a day of new beginnings. This is a time of redemption, renewal, and resurrection. Fifty wasn’t so hot, so I’m dropping it completely. This year, I turn one. On July 1 I will be living in a new state, beginning a new job, where for the first time in years I will be working with visionary people who deeply appreciate what I bring to the job. I get to start over, start new, and I hope to make the most of it (first of all, by not jumping out of any more airplanes…)
Our Christian faith is based in the idea of second chances and new beginnings. We are a people of hope, granted a future filled with promise, and challenged to make the best of every opportunity. What is passed is past. God graciously calls us to new life. While I enjoy the “happy” part of “Happy Birthday,” what I most look forward to this year is the gift of “rebirth.” This is a year that promises an incredible learning curve, one which may require that I crawl awhile before I learn to walk.” Oh, but each new day will unfold new wonders, new challenges, and new opportunities. This is a great year to be alive! I can’t wait until I’m two.
Categories: Personal Reflection